Andrew Palmer, a freshman pre-med major and Bodenhamer Fellow from Bentonville, Arkansas, had the distinction of being selected as our inaugural Dean for a Day. Andrew won on the strength of his campaign video and accompanying graphics, which paint a bright future for the Honors College. Dean Emeritus Palmer reflects on the experience below.
Though my tenure as Dean of the Honors college may have been brief, it was an invaluable experience. I applied to be dean because I wanted to get the know the honors college. I found so much more than I was expecting.
Leading up to October 3rd, it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk to me about was what I was going discuss with the Chancellor. In preparation for the meeting, I watched the State of the University, read the Guiding Priorities, Provost Report, and even the Honors College Strategic Plan. We barely talked about any of these.
I asked Chancellor Steinmetz about his research. There is something to be said about the value of passion in teaching. It was apparent that though the Chancellor is employed as an administrator, he hasn’t lost his passion for teaching neuroscience. If Chancellor Steinmetz were to offer such a course, it would be extremely rewarding to students. A teacher with passion can make all the difference – it was a passionate high school teacher who inspired me to pursue biology. From my meetings, it is clear that the university puts student success first. As Provost Coleman put it, “we [the Chancellor and Provost] didn’t get into administration for the power… but because we care deeply about transforming the State of Arkansas.”
The Chancellor pointed out a generational gap between teachers and students. In high school students are told that university professors and staff won’t care about students. While this may have been true when they were in school, it is certainly not the experience of students at today’s University of Arkansas. Perhaps the most valuable part of the experience was my change in perspective. Large institutions, like the University of Arkansas, often feel impersonal and unreacheable. Dean for a day allowed me to see administration in a different light. The faculty and administration here truly care about the success of students.
After my meetings with the Chancellor and Provost, I met with honors students and talked about issues they find particularly relevant. Occasionally students feel more comfortable discussing suggestions and concerns about the university with peers than with administration. We discussed concerns about guns on campus, some issues with Greek life at the university and how to make students feel more comfortable making use of Honors college resources. Finally we talked about the value of volunteer work on fostering a sense of community. A student dean provided the unique combination of both roles, peer and administration (if only for a short while), that encouraged an honest discussion of issues that I was able to bring up with the administration at lunch.
Another interesting discovery was made during my lunch with the Honors College administration. It turns out that there are real people who work in those offices above the Gearhart Lounge, and these people genuinely care about making students more successful. It’s kind of like seeing your kindergarten school teacher at Walmart and realizing that they don’t live at school.
Only one part of my day was significantly different than an average day for Dean Coon. Unlike most office hours, mine were filled with back-to-back visitors, none of whom had even seen the dean’s suite before. I want students to feel comfortable using the resources available at the honors college. Freshmen, in particular, tend to shy away from opportunities that present themselves because they don’t feel welcome to them. As the youngest dean emeritus in University history, I must say that this is certainly not the case. As I told students at the Honors College Convocation, “This is the university for people who want to make the most of their time in college.” So my advice to students is simple: Nothing is beyond your grasp. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a faculty member and make use of the resources available to you.
Oh, and if you find yourself in Dean Coon’s office, try to find as many hidden posters of my face as possible.