My Year Away. And Back.

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


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And So, The End Is Near…But Did I Do It My Way?

It’s June. That means I’m in my last month of administration. In the words of Frank Sinatra “The end is near.” July 1 is right around the corner. Here’s what I have to do before I check out and begin My Year Away.

  1. Faculty Evaluations. Yuck. I don’t know why I find this an unpleasant task, but I do. I enjoy reading what the faculty have accomplished over the past year. I just don’t like to write the letters commending them for the good stuff (that part is easy) but nudging them to improve in areas that need work. More times than not, I’m impressed with all of the willing service to the university they provide. Even so, it’s an interesting exercise to read 40 self-reports. Garrison Keillor isn’t the only one who lives in a town where Everyone Is Above Average.
  2. Finding adjuncts to cover the classes we have scheduled, but don’t have enough faculty to teach. We’ve got a record number of students returning to campus in August and somebody’s got to teach them. Finding qualified adjuncts who are available to teach at paltry sums and who have the academic credentials to satisfy the university accreditation watchdogs is a challenge, that’s for sure.
  3. Finding someone to take over our graduate program. Yup. Our brand-new grad director jumped ship after one semester. I’m trying not to take it personally.
  4. Read dissertations or dissertation proposals and participate in the defenses. Over the past week, I’ve had three. It’s just that time of year.
  5. Launch four faculty searches to start in August. Let’s see, five faculty members and one graduate student for each committee, justification paperwork for central administration, selection of advertising venues.
  6. Go to Tbilisi, Georgia, to teach a doctoral seminar on academic writing and to lead a workshop on pedagogy.   Georgia, in case you don’t know, is next door to Ukraine and eight time zones away. You might question why I would do such a thing during my last month of full-time administration. Let me just say that I have asked myself this question many times.
  7. Clean my office and move to my new (smaller) office. It’s amazing how much paper a person can accumulate in the era of paperless digitation.

There’s more, but I’d rather not think about it right now.

As I wrote in my March 12 post “When Administration Duties Backslap You..” (https://carolpardun.com/2014/03/12/when-administrative-duties-backslap-you-on-both-sides-of-the-head/), it’s been one crazy semester that has just about done me in. But, as I look back, I’ve accomplished quite a lot, both as an administrator and in preparation for becoming a regular faculty member. I got word that both my papers for AEJMC (https://carolpardun.com/2014/04/01/hooray-for-writing-deadlines/)were accepted for presentation in August. I successfully completed the first course in the Data Scientist Specialization via Johns Hopkins and Coursera. (I’ve decided I need to read more about R and practice writing code more before I tackle the R Programming course. One more thing to add to my sabbatical list!) I successfully completed teaching two courses and three independent studies (https://carolpardun.com/2014/02/26/i-taught-all-day-today-and-it-was-okay/)  My teaching evaluations were solid. One student even suggested that I was a cool hippie back in the day. Whatever that means.

I helped my new administrative assistant adjust to her new job responsibilities. By the way, she is phenomenal. Every day at work, I marvel that such a qualified (and crazy young) professional found her way to our school.

We completed our search for our new Big Data assistant professor. The process continues because our choice is an international graduate student who has just completed his PhD. (Visas, work papers, spreadsheets, etc. It’s quite amazing what it takes to demonstrate to the government that there is not a U.S. citizen more qualified for the job.) He is excited about joining us, which makes me happy. I love seeing young scholars decide that the J-School at South Carolina is the place to launch a career.

The renovations for our new building began this semester. Our meetings with the architects, construction team, interior designers and technology consultants have taken up hours upon hours this semester, but the meetings have been worth it. The construction is underway and when I get back from My Year Away, I will be in an office on the third floor with two windows and a tremendous view. (Our school has been stuck in the basement of the coliseum—yes, a real coliseum—for years. No windows does things to people. Just sayin’.)

And then there’s all the other regular stuff that goes into running a journalism program with too many students, not enough faculty, and bare-bones staff support. Perhaps I didn’t always go about things in the most conventional ways, but I got the work done. So with apologies to Sinatra, “Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew/But through it all, when there was doubt/I ate it up and spit it out/I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way…The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”

Okay, taking the blows, absolutely; however, a lot of times I didn’t really get to do things my way. (https://carolpardun.com/2014/01/25/when-the-one-speaks-for-the-many-and-other-oddities-about-faculty-governance/). Instead, it was often compromise, pleading, trying another angle, more compromise. But, still our school has made progress over the past six years. So that’s what I choose to remember.

Meanwhile, it’s 30 days to go. I can do that. And if it get’s too harried, I’ll just start humming a little Frank Sinatra. That ought to clear the office!


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I Taught All Day Today. And It Was Okay.

I don’t admit this always, but one of the reasons I was hesitant to give up administration was because I didn’t know how much I would like being in the classroom full time again.

Before I became a full-time administrator, I was a competent teacher, garnering excellent student evaluations and a handful of teaching awards. But as my research productivity increased, I started teaching fewer classes as my funded research “bought out” my teaching time. Sometimes people would ask me why I didn’t teach more since I was so good at it. I used to respond that teaching was a lot like fertilizer. You didn’t need very much to reap the full benefit.

Academics talk a lot about teaching load. A lighter teaching load is almost always considered the ideal. Even for those professors who love to teach.

So now here I am, getting ready to abandon administration. Since my scholarship is currently in a wee bit of a shambles, when I return to the faculty after My Year Away, I will not have any kind of teaching reduction. Sure, I’m at a flagship so that means just two courses a semester, but four classes a year feels like a lot to me. It’s been over a decade since I’ve taught a full load.

In this blog, I’ve been writing a lot about the things I’ve been doing to ready myself for my sabbatical including studying statistics, creating various research groups, reading a variety of books, etc. I also decided that sucking it up and teaching more right now would be a good idea as well.

This semester I’m teaching a doctoral seminar in pedagogy. I’m also overseeing three undergraduate independent studies—and just recently, I starting teaching a five-week course I created called Historical Milestones in American Advertising. On Tuesdays, I do it all—finishing the day with the three-hour doctoral seminar. It wears me out. But, it is also exhilarating. My ad students are amazing. We meet at 8:30 a.m. They are ready to go. Today we talked about the history of self-regulation in the advertising industry—a topic I wasn’t expecting them to embrace. But they did.

The doctoral students are simply fantastic. Today’s topic was technology in the classroom. We covered a lot of topics. (Princess Di’s funeral, The West Wing, MOOCs, Twitter, Blackboard, and this blog were just a handful of subjects we explored.) The three hours zipped by. (For me, anyway. You might have to check with my students to get their take on the afternoon!)

The good news is that I taught all day today. And, I did more than survive. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed preparing for class. I enjoyed being in class. I enjoyed my students, both undergrads and grads. And, maybe. most important of all, it felt normal. I’ve got a few months to go before I start my sabbatical, but I’m already beginning to see a glimmer of hope that spending my days as a teacher and a researcher are going to be good days. Maybe even great days.