Don's diary: Knocking some Cents into US Education

March 5, 2004

Nowadays, serving as a dean in a US public university is rapidly becoming less about working within a community of scholars and more of a constant attempt to attract additional fiscal support. Sounds abhorrent? Get ready, UK dons, your time might well be nigh.

The local business leaders of my town-gown group are interested in an arts investment that we could emulate on our campus, so at 5am I find myself on a chartered bus to the nether end of Georgia to see a community theatre project with them. After a six-hour journey there, the two-hour performance (don't ask) and the seven-hour journey back (our intrepid bus driver getting lost in Columbus), this all seems like a bad idea.

The university soccer team plays badly for 90 minutes in a torrential downpour to a very small crowd, me and a potential donor to the university included. We part company after a polite but soggy no from the donor. My evening is spent assessing overly long pre and post-tenure review files.

I have a noon meeting to "sell" my planned group trip to Ireland to alumni and interested community leaders (with a healthy cut going to the university).

Later I meet with the "suits" from the university foundation to evaluate my latest fundraising efforts. Academic deans are evaluated on how closely they reach their annual corporate fundraising targets. Mine is not small, and panic sets in again.

I am in Atlanta this morning at the university system governing board office to seek approval for several new undergraduate degree programmes. Since we are not asking for additional resources, this goes well.

I spend the rest of the day handling student complaints about my uncaring faculty (mid-semester grades have just been released), but I soon escape for a coffee and biscuit.

I have a long slow drive to Macon this morning for an absurd meeting of the state's deans of education and deans of arts and sciences.

There is lots of complaining about the post-9/11 budget crisis, with little accomplished. Back on campus, I hear a visiting Puerto Rican poet and then join her and my English faculty for a good Pad Thai and better Pinot Noir.

It is 30C this afternoon, so I persuade my fellow deans to play golf instead of working. I win money, which is, I point out, akin to fundraising.

This morning, my stunningly brilliant idea for a campus Shakespeare garden (suitably sponsored by a national gardening supply company) is correctly ignored by the president's administrative council after I mistakenly call it "a nifty plan".

This afternoon, I am at our Centre for Continuing Education for a fundraising kick-off event to subsidise a new campus amphitheatre, then on to a sublime performance by Welsh harpist Catrin Finch, followed by weak tea, rock-hard scones and fake clotted cream, sponsored by the British consulate-general in Atlanta.

Then it's home to a well-deserved weekend of English murder mysteries, Alan Titchmarsh and The Office - all being shown on the new cable TV channel, BBC America.

Ray Wallace, originally from Northern Ireland, is dean of arts and sciences, Clayton College and State University, Georgia, US.

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