My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.

Joe Biden Is Our Commencement Speaker. Honestly, I Had Nothing to Do With This.

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One of the least favorite things I’ve had to do as an administrator is talk to strangers on the phone, trying to explain things that aren’t my fault. I answer my own phone. I learned this from my dad, a former GE exec who answered his own phone. I always thought this was rather admirable. Until the other day.

Over the past six years, I’ve had phone calls from students asking me why they couldn’t get into a particular class (including students who aren’t even in the J-School!). I’ve had parents call me asking me why their high school student didn’t get a scholarship. I’ve had people from the community call me and ask me if I could edit their books. I’ve had compassionate community leaders ask me to help free innocent men from Death Row.  

But the other day, I got multiple calls from parents demanding (I’m using the nice word here) that I get them more tickets for graduation. It was just announced that Joe Biden would be our commencement speaker. Graduation occurs in a gargantuan arena, but apparently with extra security, the university has determined that only six tickets will be distributed to each student. One mother screamed at me. Another mother sobbed, begging me to do something.

For the record, I have absolutely nothing to do with who gets to speak at graduation.

Over the last several months, I’ve written about some of my least favorite things about administration. I don’t mind working hard. I don’t even always mind people expressing disappointment in my decisions, begging me to change my mind. But, these calls just about did me in. It was already a busy day.

A scheduled 90-minute meeting, discussing wiring for our new building (it’s mind-boggling how many decisions have to be made) became a three-hour meeting. I had to squeeze in reading an entire dissertation for a defense. Then I had to scramble to get ready for my three-hour doctoral seminar. And the second that class was over, I had to leap into the car and drive 150 miles to choir practice. (I know. An explanation for that will take an entire post.)

But these screaming episodes on the phone took the cake. Why were they calling me? Did they actually think I could do something? Or was I simply an easy target for a frustrated parent? It was kind of unnerving, actually.

For all would-be administrators out there, get ready. They don’t teach you this stuff in administrative school.

But, here’s the thing. Once the Biden brouhaha calmed down, I had a very productive rest of the week. I ripped through a mountain of paperwork. I answered untold faculty and staff questions. I solved problems.

My office has two doors and these last couple of days, someone was walking out one door while another person was walking in. And I loved it. I was making a difference. Truth is, I’m going to miss leading this journalism school. I’m not having second thoughts about stepping down. It’s time. But, I’m a bit melancholy about it.

Maybe Joe Biden will perk me up!

Author: CJPardun

I'm a professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. I am passionate about rowing, I'm mostly scared about sailing (but I'm competent), I love to cook when I don't have to, and I have some fairly strong opinions about journalism education.

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