Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Assault on Student Affairs

Student affairs professionals, take note: higher education reformers have set their sights on your offices, programs, and services. I first sensed that a target was now on student affairs at an event earlier this summer on "hacking" the university. The introductory speaker at the event claimed that there is no evidence demonstrating that being on campus or interacting with faculty benefits students. I wrote in response to this event that the speaker was apparently unfamiliar with the vast body of scholarship conducted by and on behalf of student affairs. A series of articles released yesterday by The Chronicle of Higher Education reflected a similar lack of knowledge. Increasingly, ignorance of student affairs is rampant. The present narrative is dangerous and threatens to undermine precisely the learning and development higher education reformers demand.

Let's take a closer look at the contours of this narrative. The first article, titled "The Comfortable Kid," was featured on The Chronicle's homepage. The underlying message of the article is that, through various recent developments, colleges are coddling students. The source of this obsession with comfort is a student-as-consumer ethos in which decisions are made according to what makes students happy. The article acknowledges that this ethos is connected to a necessary desire to care for students in ways that help them learn and develop. What's interesting is that, amidst this discussion of the tension between coddling and care, the article quickly pivots to the history of student affairs. In other words, if students are being coddled or turned into "marshmallows," in the words of the article's author, student affairs is responsible. It is student affairs professionals who have encouraged the individualization, customization, and personalization that characterizes today's college experience. Interestingly enough, many of the examples cited in the article of protecting students from discomfort that causes them to intellectually grow come from academic affairs. Nevertheless, the narrative remains one in which the comfortable kid inhabits a bubble constructed by student affairs.

The case can be made that student affairs sometimes goes overboard in its desire to make the college experience inclusive and sensitive to multiple identities. But student affairs is also responsible for challenging students in crucial ways. It pushes them to dialogue with one another to recognize and appreciate differences. It asks them to try new experiences that make comfort zones far more porous. It develops opportunities for students to hold one another accountable and assume leadership positions. And it connects curricula with local communities. I would argue, in fact, that student affairs does a better job than academic courses of forcing students to contend with cognitive dissonance. Such experiences outside or alongside the classroom sometimes require that student affairs provide layers of support to allow students to reflect and take measured risks. To some, this support resembles coddling, leading to a misinformed narrative in which student affairs is preoccupied with comfort. A deeper understanding of student affairs reveals that support is a simply a means to incrementally challenge students.

Linked within this article is one on student services spending. The article's title suggests that spending on student services is rising because colleges are competing through amenities. It notes, but largely dismisses, other explanations, such as meeting the needs of non-traditional students, increasing resources related to enrollment, and fulfilling regulatory burdens. We cannot deny that spending on student services has increased at most colleges and universities, and the trend is problematic. However, as the article correctly shows, a portion of this spending has gone to vital services like counseling students coping with mental illness and developing programs to prevent sexual assault. The article then rather mysteriously shifts to a discussion of student services throughout history, including a few quotes from noted higher education historian John Thelin. Thelin traces the rise of student services to the 1980s and, for some odd reason, bashes student affairs. Talking about his former students who have gone into student affairs, Thelin recalls: "They started describing student services not as extracurricular but co-curricular," he says. "I think the idea was to legitimize and ensure the survival of some of the things they were offering." This quote showcases another dimension of the narrative against student affairs.

Student affairs becomes merely an expenditure category whose evolution over time is a factor of colleges competing through amenities. The tone of the article makes clear that this spending is considered wasteful and detracts from the teaching mission of colleges. Missing in the narrative is any recognition that student affairs is instrumental in promoting learning on campuses across the country. An investment in student services isn't just an attempt to attract applicants with pretty buildings. Surveys tell us time and time again that significant learning happens through experiences outside of the classroom--experiences that are designed, implemented, and assessed by student affairs professionals. Although the amenities arms race in higher education warrants close scrutiny, we should not in the process denigrate student affairs as extracurricular activities masquerading as legitimate learning opportunities. We risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as student affairs often makes learning truly come alive in college, regardless of whether or not it is in a fancy, new building.

There is an assault on student affairs that is gaining momentum. The narrative that constitutes this assault is one that equates student affairs with wasteful spending and turning colleges into a country club. As someone who researches the neoliberal university, I am certainly sympathetic to any discussion of consumerism in the context of higher education. But I believe the assault on student affairs undermines significant efforts to help students learn and develop as critical thinkers and citizens. Student affairs professionals would be wise to follow this narrative and pay heed to some of the very reasonable critique. However, they should also push back and fight false claims that student affairs is unrelated to spending on those activities that promote active learning. They should challenge false claims that student affairs is all about comfort.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Taking Action for Adjuncts

After being surrounded by a sea of boxes for the past few days, I have some time to step away from unpacking and relax. I'll have more on this process of moving for a new academic position and my efforts to integrate in the community soon. In the meantime, I'm responding to a provocative article in Chronicle's Vitae. In "Blaming the Victim: Ladder Faculty and the Lack of Adjunct Activism," Lori Harrison-Kahan highlights the silence of tenure-track faculty with respect to the inequities of adjunct/contingent/tenure-ineligible faculty. At the conclusion of the article, Harrison-Kahan writes:

Through the labor movement taking place in Boston and across the country, contingent professors are using their newfound voices to begin formulating answers. But it is also the responsibility of ladder faculty to take action, to openly acknowledge how exploitative labor and hiring practices have affected the lives and work of those unprotected by tenure. 

I quite agree. Yet I wondered aloud what, precisely, would taking action for adjuncts entail? Initially, I had difficulty coming up with ways that tenure-track faculty can address inequities adjuncts experience. Chalk this up to my naiveté or lack of experience. However, I realized that my previous employer, the Office of Faculty Affairs at the University of Maryland, provides a few examples. Here are the steps this forward-looking office initiated or implemented over the course of the past two years. These steps illuminate several courses of action for tenure-track faculty at other institutions to demonstrate activism for adjuncts.

1. Get a sense of numbers and issues - Many institutions do not meaningfully keep track of the number of adjuncts they employ. Although all of this information should be available through the human resources record system, it is often the case that no one is tasked with collecting it or presenting it to show trends. This was the case at the University of Maryland. When you don't know how many adjuncts are employed at the institution over time, it is difficult to realize how the academic labor force is changing. A task force was convened by the Senate to study adjuncts, and it became patently clear that, over the preceding decades, the university's reliance upon adjuncts had exploded. Tenure-track faculty numbers remained constant, while adjunct numbers ticked upwards. As a result, the university's academic labor force now includes more than 60% adjuncts. In addition to understanding the proportion of adjuncts employed at the university, the task force conducted a survey of adjunct working conditions. The findings were revealing: no recognition, exclusion from governance, lack of promotion, outright abuse, and so on. So, one early step that tenure-track faculty can take: request that a study of adjuncts be conducted and periodically updated. Encourage other tenure-track faculty to support the initiative and even participate in the committee or task force. When the report is finished, disseminate it widely in your department.

2. Create opportunities for more inclusive governance - Raising awareness is important, but it fails to change material conditions. One of the findings of the task force at the University of Maryland was that, despite the fact that adjunct numbers where steadily rising, the seats in the Senate allotted to adjuncts remained constant. Additionally, it was often the case that adjuncts had no voice in departmental decision-making. This means that adjuncts are becoming more and more vital to the operations of the university, yet excluded from the formal structures of enacting change within the institution. Such exclusion makes it possible for inequities to continue, as adjuncts have few opportunities to express their opinions or share their experiences. Tenure-track faculty can help to re-calibrate this power differential. A second step is to fight to have adjuncts included in departmental decision-making. Don't simply rely upon adjuncts to implement the curriculum you create--partner with them and draw upon their knowledge. Furthermore, propose that systems of institutional shared governance reflect the realities of the academic labor force and that the composition of seats are periodically reviewed. 

3. Include adjuncts in departmental and campus recognition opportunities - One of my responsibilities was to determine which departments across campus include adjuncts in their annual rewards. The answer: hardly any. All departments and colleges honored outstanding tenure-track faculty. And the institution had a number of prestigious awards for the very best faculty. However, only a few departments and colleges made adjuncts eligible for awards or created a separate award for adjuncts. Indeed, there were more awards for graduate students than adjuncts. A third, relatively straightforward step is to rewrite the eligibility rules for faculty awards to include adjuncts. It makes sense that adjuncts, by virtue of their specific responsibilities, may not be eligible for all awards. Nevertheless, it strikes me as unreasonable and cruel to have, for example, an outstanding teaching award that is not open to a long-term adjunct who teaches multiple sections of an important course with great student reviews. If departmental politics get in the way of including adjuncts, at least propose to create a separate award. The important thing is to start thinking about how adjuncts can and should be recognized for their good work. 

4. Ensure that professional development is open to all faculty - Hosting a conference on engaged scholarship? Invite adjuncts. Organizing an orientation for new faculty? Invite adjuncts. Creating a series of luncheons to promote cross-disciplinary research? Invite adjuncts. Step four basically means re-imagining the concept of faculty. Any opportunities for tenure-track faculty to do their work better should be made available to adjuncts. Because they are also faculty. Tenure-track faculty should ask when opportunities are announced, when they register, and/or when they arrive if adjuncts can also attend. 

5. Question contracts and ladders - A major finding of the task force at the University of Maryland was that contracts made a mockery of job security. Fear of losing their job was motivating adjuncts, not the possibility of promotion based on strong work. This creates two points of action for tenure-track faculty. For those in positions of power to hire adjuncts, work with human resources to figure out how to offer multi-term contracts for adjuncts that have strong performance records. Some adjuncts must live semester to semester, without knowing whether or not they will have a job from fall to spring. Such uncertainty is not only emotionally damaging, it disrupts the continuity that allows instructors to develop relationships, improve courses, and become stable enough to give back to the university in other ways. Another point of action for tenure-track faculty is to request that adjuncts have clear job descriptions and a ladder for promotion. Just as tenure-track faculty know what they must do to move from assistant to associate, adjuncts should know what to do to move from lecturer to senior lecturer. Each title should have clear guidelines and include an opportunity to renegotiate payment. 

In summary, tenure-track faculty should not be silent. They should acknowledge that they are complicit in the plight of adjuncts and realize that the destinies of all academics, regardless of rank, are intertwined in the neoliberal university. Tenure-track faculty should locate or create opportunities to get a sense of the numbers and issues, make governance more inclusive, include adjuncts in recognition processes, open professional development to all faculty, and question contract systems and ladders. 

I'm sure that I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg and, given that my time as a lecturer was short-lived, I can't speak on behalf of adjuncts. I can only work to follow these steps as an assistant professor at my new institution, if they haven't been initiated yet. I would love to hear from others with a stake in this conversation: in what ways can tenure-track faculty take action for adjuncts?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

More Insight from Einstein's Academic Career

This post is part of a series called Published and Perished: Lessons from Lives of the Mind. The series comments on the present through the experiences of professors past. The next post in the series will feature Robert Koch, the relatively unknown scientist who discovered the bacteriological basis of tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax. 

I recently wrote about Albert Einstein's experience on the academic job market for The Chronicle of Higher Education's Vitae. The piece was based upon my (summer fun) reading of Walter Isaacson's 2008 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. It struck me that I only captured a small part of Herr Professor's fascinating journey in academe. In tracing Einstein's initial struggles, alt-ac adventures, and eventual triumph in securing a professorship, some might accuse me of painting an overly rosy portrayal of a trying period for anyone, let alone one of history's most complex personalities. I offer this addendum to the article in the hopes of providing a more nuanced narrative arc.

Once again, Einstein's personal story connects to contemporary issues among academics, including competition, divorce, anxiety, striving for prestige, and frequent relocations. Einstein was remarkable for his childlike wonder at the cosmos and ability to devise stunning mental experiments, but he was rather unremarkable in constantly paying high personal costs in exchange for his unique version of a life of the mind.

I ended my article with Einstein's first official academic appointment as a junior professor at the University of Zurich. Given Einstein's quickly ascending reputation in the scientific community, it did not take long for opportunity to knock. After just six months, he was offered a full professorship at the German section of the University of Prague. Foreshadowing a string of similar decisions, Einstein accepted the promotion and uprooted his wife and two sons from the city they loved. Although the University of Prague was eager to poach Einstein, his Jewishness again posed a problem that initially looked to derail the entire move. The ministry preferred another candidate--one who wasn't Jewish. However, upon learning that he was the second choice, the preferred candidate excused himself from consideration. What is interesting is that, at the time, Einstein did not readily identify as Jewish and struggled to acknowledge membership in any faith community. His appointment was only finalized after he begrudgingly accepted a law in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that he enter a religion on his official documentation. Einstein's choice? He wrote: "Mosaic." (Einstein embraced his Jewish identity, becoming a prominent Zionist. However, he never actively practiced Judaism.)

Einstein's career was gaining momentum, but his home life was unraveling. He met his wife, Mileva Maric, while they were both students at the Polytechnic in Zurich, and they bonded over a love of science. There has been lively debate about the role Maric played in Einstein's early breakthroughs, suggesting, if nothing else, that she was a capable intellectual in her own right. Maric had dreams of becoming a professor, but she was not able to pass the requisite exams to continue her studies. Being a female scientist at the time also defied gender norms, and she likely endured a range of structural obstacles to fulfill her aspirations. Maric became mother to three of Einstein's children and surrendered her scientific aspirations. While Einstein spent hours poring over mathematical equations and losing himself in thought, Maric raised Einstein's sons with little support and experienced severe depression. Resentment festered between the two, and Maric was vocally unhappy about the move to Prague. Einstein was unequivocal about retreating into his work during times of personal crisis. So it was that he spent increasingly long periods of time away from home. In a bid to rescue his marriage, Einstein left Prague and moved the family back to Zurich. Around this time, he had also struck up a flirtatious correspondence with his first cousin, Elsa.

Before long, Einstein was lured to another university in Berlin. It would be his fourth academic appointment before the age of 35. The decision to relocate the family once again was sweetened by the job offer, which allowed Einstein to research with no teaching or service obligations. (In the parlance of university administration, Einstein would have been an "all-star appointment" and, therefore, above the quotidian duties of a professor. This was also before widespread obsession with faculty productivity.) As I previously noted, Einstein was not a strong lecturer. His celebrity status often meant that his lectures were initially well attended, and students sometimes warmed to his quirks and anecdotes. Nevertheless, "compelling speaker" and "dedicated teacher" could not reasonably be listed on his curriculum vitae. The move to Berlin also had personal motivations: it would bring Einstein closer to his romantic interest, Elsa. He was probably aware that moving to Berlin would also mean the end of his marriage. Living in Berlin brought the family closer to Einstein's mother, who was never pleased with her son's choice in Maric. On the eve of the Great War, Einstein and Maric separated. Their painful divorce was finalized around the cessation of conflict in 1918.

Amidst this familial strife, Einstein became completely engrossed in a competition to generalize his theory of relativity. A gifted mathematician appeared to be approximating an equation for general relativity, sparking a creative burst within Einstein. The resulting four papers laid the conceptual and mathematical basis for the theory of general relativity, although whether Einstein truly beat his competitor to the equation is still subject to debate. In the process of racing to stake his ground, Einstein suffered anxiety, slept very little, and often forgot to eat. His deep concentration allowed him to complete masterful scholarship, but his emotional health was compromised. On more than one occasion, Einstein had to put off visiting his sons in order to recoup from the strenuous pursuit of discovery. While he was an undisputed genius, Einstein regularly prioritized work over family.

A complete examination of Einstein as an academic uncovers a few useful lessons and multiple harsh realities. In my article, I highlight the way that Einstein, in his early years, found an intellectual oasis outside of academe and frequently mocked the academic enterprise. Yet he was not immune to the academy's enticements, namely prestige, and proved unable to reconcile tensions between his personal and professional commitments.

I'm drawn to Einstein's story not because I believe he is representative of academics. More than anything, I simply found his experience intriguing. I share almost nothing in common with Einstein, and yet there is something familiar about his meandering path through academe. There is something universal about his trials and triumphs, which is surprising because we so often think of him as one-of-a-kind.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The "All-Administrative" University: A Faculty Invention?

I recently read Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University. The rising number of administrative employees in higher education and increasing costs attributed to administration are hot topics. Many observers bemoan bloated mid-managerial ranks and obscene compensation for executives. They link excessive spending on administration to cuts in instructional expenditures, as evidenced by the now routine reliance upon contingent instructors. I've been knee-deep in these issues as part of two initially unrelated research projects on part-time faculty and administrative costs at public comprehensive institutions.

Ginsberg's claim is that in the 1960s and 70s, colleges and universities were directed by the work and concerns of faculty. Teaching and research were ends and institutions of higher learning existed to achieve these ends. By contrast, today's colleges and universities are dictated by a growing number of full-time professional administrators, who view management and institutional advancement as ends. Their primary objective is increasing the reaches of their authority and increasing the number of people they supervise. Shared governance is eroded as power concentrates in the hands of people who are far removed from classrooms, laboratories, and libraries.

The data that Ginsberg cites certainly raises questions:

  • Over the past four decades, the number of full-time professors has increased about 50 percent, keeping pace with growth in student enrollments. During the same period, the number of administrators and administrative staffers increased by 85 percent and 240 percent.
  • Between 1947 and 1995 total university spending increased 148 percent. Administrative spending, however, grew by 235 percent.
These figures are perhaps not surprising to anyone familiar with higher education. It is less clear why the number of administrative employees and why administrative costs are rising. Several explanations have been proffered, but few of them have been systematically researched. These include:

  • Spending money to make money: in the wake of state budget cuts, universities have invested heavily in administrative units that generate revenues.
  • Mission creep: colleges and universities strive to be like the most prestigious institutions, and the most prestigious institutions are research-oriented. Shifting to a research orientation requires different spending priorities.
  • Administrative lattice: faculty focus on the things that advance their careers, meaning they increasingly abandon administrative tasks, requiring more administrative staff.
  • Regulatory burdens: colleges and universities are now required to comply with a range of regulations and provide regular performance reports, all of which require staff and money.
  • Growth in enrollments: there are more students to serve, and the services they require are more costly than in the past.
Ginsberg largely dismisses many of these explanations. He contends that the explosion of administration in higher education is internally-generated. He believes that administrators are motivated by the desire to self-replicate. In order to advance their careers, they must put all emphasis on image polishing, money making, and vision setting. The larger their fiefdoms become, the better their prospects for promotion up the ladder. In order to ascend the ladder, administrators must constantly chip away at the power of faculty members. They do this through a variety of strategies, including commissioning studies and task forces, invoking strategic priorities, employing managerial buzzwords, and favoring a demand-side view of curriculum development. The latter technique basically means making curriculum changes based upon what they perceive student-consumers want.

These ideas are persuasive on some level, as I saw the palpable conflict between administrators and faculty during my time working in a provost's office. The techniques of administrator power-hoarding were also evident to me. Yet there are two problems with Ginsberg's notion of a self-propagating administration at odds with the faculty. First, he doesn't actually provide evidence that this is happening. Aside from disproving, in his eyes, external sources of administrative growth, he does not show through data that administrators are simply interested in expanding their spheres of influence. Second, he does not adequately address the fact that the line between administration and faculty can be a fuzzy one.

Indeed, the managers he derides often come directly from the ranks of faculty. While it is true that some institutions are hiring outside academe for top-level positions, many--if not the majority--of vice presidents, vice provosts, deans, associate deans, and so on were once faculty. This means that the "all-administrative" university was not invented out of thin air by a group of management obsessed outsiders. It came from former faculty forced to make decisions in difficult times. Some of these individuals were interested in prestige and advancing their own careers. However, many of them simply wanted to do good work and return to their academic posts after serving institutions they love. 

The golden age of higher education, according to Ginsberg, was a time when there were more faculty than administrators, and administrators tended to be part-time (keeping one foot in their departments). Not coincidentally, this was also a time when institutions were expected to do a lot less, and higher education was far less accessible to vast swaths of the American population. To buy Ginsberg's argument, we need more evidence, which is precisely why a colleague and I are undertaking our research. Some of this research should tackle the administrator-faculty separation assumed in Ginsberg's book. For the "all-administrative" university to be a tenable concept, we need to see proof of a substantial shift in motivations and perspectives as faculty become managers--such a sizable shift, in fact, that they can no longer be identified as faculty. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

So Long, University of Maryland

I'm less than two weeks away from moving to a new city and university. It seems as though I've been waiting for this moment for eons. Having signed my contract a few months ago and having promised myself to take it easy for the first part of summer, my days have been fairly lackadaisical and slow. In the run up to the moving truck's arrival, things have certainly picked up. I've had much to coordinate, organize, and pack. The process has been draining, both physically and emotionally.

Today, it really struck me that I'll be leaving what has been my home for seven years. In all of the excitement of starting a new adventure, I haven't taken the time to pay homage to the places that have made the adventure possible in the first place. We move for many reasons: necessity, opportunity, ambition. But we always take with us pieces of the places we left behind. This is my ode to the University of Maryland and my recognition that I am taking so many fantastic pieces with me.

I came to the University of Maryland in July of 2007, just a month after graduating with my bachelor's degree. As an undergraduate, I gravitated towards the thoroughly unemployable subjects of medieval history and Spanish language and literature, but I was fortunate to learn about the field of higher education and student affairs through experiences as a resident assistant and member of student government. I had dreams of emulating our remarkably approachable and gifted vice president of student development, so I applied to and enrolled in a student affairs master's program at the University of Maryland.

As soon as I arrived, I felt like a fish out of water. I was coming from a small university and, before that, a small town. The transition was one of the most severe I have ever encountered. The students were different, the campus was different, the city was different. I missed my girlfriend (now wife), who was finishing her last year at our alma matter. In many ways, I didn't have the emotional maturity to handle so much change. After a few months, I gave serious thought to quitting. I hated the city, hated the university, and hated the program. I even talked to my adviser about what I needed to do to withdraw, which is somewhat comical to me now, since I had no backup plan. At the time, it was traumatic.

Something important happened in the winter of that first year. First, I decided to switch to a different program in my department, one whose focus was more global. I reasoned, at the time, that it was a better fit for me, since I studied abroad several times in college and studied topics outside the United States. In retrospect, I was romanticized by the possibility of travel and, at the time, had a penchant for abruptly changing course and escaping adversity. Second, I connected with my best friend. I say connected because, as he likes to tell anyone and everyone, we had met long before we started hanging out. He says that I purposefully ignored him, while I insist that I was a wreck and oblivious to people through the first semester of graduate school. It matters little now. We became roommates, he was my best man, and he's still my main man. He is an enormous piece of this place that will travel with me and likely bring me back, hopefully as much as possible.

My new program turned out to be a great fit. Something I have cherished about my program is its flexibility. I have a strong case of academic ADD, and I never would have lasted in an overly structured program that forced me to take a prescribed list of courses. My program had three required courses, and the rest of the curriculum was designed by me, in collaboration with my adviser. I enjoyed the coursework, and before long, I started to see the university through a different set of lenses. Given my new international bent, I looked to switch to a more global graduate assistantship, which marked the next important turning point in my relationship with the place I leave behind. I started working for a living-learning program called Global Communities. When I arrived, the program had just been resurrected by an amazingly talented director. It had turned into a strong community of thoughtful, fascinating students from a dozen different countries. This quickly became my community as well. I had a home on campus, somewhere to belong.

When the director of the program left, I had the gumption, despite my youth and inexperience, to apply for her job. Looking back on it now, I still don't understand how I got it. I was 23 years old and had only a year of part-time university work experience under my belt. They saw something, however, and I soon jumped into running a program and supervising a small staff. I loved the work and did some good things for the program. We developed service-learning modules, and once again, the university placed a great deal of trust in my abilities by granting permission to lead a short-term study abroad program. For the next three years, I took groups to study education and social change in Turkey. I often chuckle at how insane it was to be responsible for the lives of 12 people when I barely had my own life under control. The program was doing well, but in the eyes of the administration, it wasn't maximizing its potential. They moved us to a new unit and decided to name a tenured faculty member as director. I was demoted and promoted at the same time. I lost complete control of the program, but I got a new title and a raise. It wasn't all bad, but I disagreed with the direction the program was heading. Despite these bumps, I take a piece of Global Communities and its wonderful students with me to my new role.

It was clear to me that to do the work I enjoyed in higher education, I needed a PhD. In truth, I had felt the itch to get my doctorate early in my studies. So, I went back to school in my same department. I spent a year taking courses and working full-time, meaning my studies and my job each suffered some. My wife was supportive and resigned to the fact that I just needed to do this. I left my job and became a full-time graduate student. Most days, I was deeply fulfilled doing graduate work. Like most people, I had times when I asked, "What is the point?" and "Who cares about this topic?" Thankfully, I had built a strong network of people inside and outside my program who helped me navigate these moments. Some of them were ahead of me in the program, and they coached me through the rough patches. Others worked on campus in the student union (you know who you are) and provided needed encouragement. All of these people, the mentors and friends, are pieces that I carry.

In my final years as a graduate student, as I entered comprehensive exams and dissertation research, I started a new graduate assistantship in the Office of Faculty Affairs. It is a strange thing, after coming to the university to work with students, to finish in an office where students only come by accident. I now exclusively deal with faculty and academic administrators. In the process, I have met remarkable people, including a host of true leaders whose example is one to emulate. In addition, I now walk into my job as an assistant professor with a thorough understanding of the academic profession. No job can prepare me for the coming year, but I at least have a sense of the issues and resources. I have no doubt that I will draw upon the lessons learned in the Office of Faculty Affairs for years to come.

The University of Maryland is where I launched my career, where I met my closest friends, where I learned to become a professional, where I pursued my intellectual passions, and where I came to embrace myself and adulthood. I am so grateful to have spent the last seven years here, and I will cherish the people who have made this place so special.

I know for a fact that my new institution will be very different. On some dark days, I'm sure I will even regret having ever left the University of Maryland. During those times, I'll turn to the pieces that got me to this point--the best friend, the community, the mentors--and push on with fond memories. I'll miss you, Terps.