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Whitworth Today: Spring 2005mplishment
The full interview with Tammy Reid, '60, who will return to the faculty in fall 2005 after nine years as Whitworth's chief academic officer.
Q. You've overseen construction of Weyerhaeuser Hall, revision of the general-education curriculum, expansion of the faculty, two rounds of strategic planning and accreditation and about 11,000 hours of meetings. What are you most proud of?
A. First, the disclaimer: No dean accomplishes anything alone. Even though there's tremendous value to being in position to shape the questions, answers require collaboration.
I'm proud of lots of things -- the Writing-across-the Curriculum program, the science division's 10-year plan, the formation of the School of Global Commerce & Management, establishing the Undergraduate Research Conference.
That said, two primary efforts come to mind: sharpening our educational goals, then developing and supporting a faculty culture to deliver them. The "Educational Principles," approved by the faculty (several years ago) and now printed in the catalog, are very brief -- just one page long. But they describe the graduates we want to send into the world, and as such, the principles are foundational for decisions on everything from curriculum to hiring to building.
It takes more than written goals to move an institution forward, though. The second area I've concentrated on (and feel good about!) is clarifying and supporting the role of faculty. We've clarified expectations, beginning in the hiring process; provided more funding for faculty to disseminate their scholarship and to participate in summer research and workshops; fine-tuned evaluation processes and compensation systems; and named a director of faculty development to work particularly with new faculty and with department chairs. These are all ways of sustaining and refining the campus culture for which Whitworth's been known and loved for ages, but we can't take the culture for granted -- it requires attention and support.
Q. What surprised you most about the job?
A. The way daily or weekly priorities shift. In teaching, my top priority was always the next class period. In administration, my first objective at 8 a.m. may be replaced by something that happens at 8:05. All it takes is one e-mail or phone call, and the day unfolds very differently than I'd expected. In this position -- I quickly realized -- much of the job is helping other people meet their priorities.
Q. We hear that your administrative support staff — Patti Green and Martha Brown — like to "spruce up" your office when you're out of town. Can you describe one of their more memorable makeovers?
A. This is a hard call to choose between "Big Bill's School of Cosmetology" and "Sleazy Rider."
The daily working climate in Academic Affairs is difficult to describe. We've worked hard, and we've laughed hard. After all, you can only interview so many faculty candidates or lead so many planning meetings before you need a change of pace. One tradition is the office makeover, usually following an out-of-town trip or vacation. I remember a meeting I went to in Miami soon after we'd received the Murdock Trust "Lives of Commitment" grant. After a brief walk on the sand, I'd sent an e-mail back to the staff saying that it was a whole lot easier to live a life of commitment at the beach. When I returned to campus, there was a banner on my office door: "Life is a beach." In the middle of my office was a wading pool and a beach chair, the conference table was covered with swimsuits and beach towels, and a Beach Boys tape was playing in the background. I'm still smiling.
Q. You've been meeting with the president's cabinet almost every week for the past 17 years, the last nine as VP for Academic Affairs. What will you do with your Wednesday afternoons?
A. It'll be hard to duplicate that combination of hard work and camaraderie with anything short of a bowling team. Just kidding. I may actually be able to get a run in before dark.
Q. The president's cabinet enjoys a remarkably strong rapport. What made it work so well and what was your role in the group dynamic?
A. In that arena folks need to be able to do two things well -- explain and lobby for their own area of the college, then stand back and, considering everything they've heard, make decisions for the good of the whole. The cabinet I've worked with has done that. My role has been to keep student learning front and center. Personally, I hope I've been able to contribute perspective, including a sense of history and context.
Q. You have focused considerable time and resources on raising Whitworth's academic profile. What are some of the tangible signs that a Whitworth degree is growing in value?
A. Of course, I think of U.S. News' rankings and our rise to #5 among 124 institutions in our category last year. Those rankings say little about the experience of an individual student, but they give us clues about how other folks in higher education see Whitworth, since the most heavily weighted indicator is academic reputation among college and university administrators.
Internally, I think we're more apt to look at feedback from accreditors or at the number of students accepted by graduate schools. We've had outside accreditation visits this year in athletic training, education, and music, and their reports have been glowing about accomplishments of students and effectiveness of faculty. Last year's graduates were accepted by more than 30 graduate schools, including two who received full fellowships to MIT. I also think it's significant that our declared science majors have risen by 58 percent during the past four years. Those students clearly came to Whitworth because they knew they'd receive a first-rate science education here. These are all tangible results of efforts to strengthen academic profile.
Q. Is there anything you had hoped to accomplish but weren't able to?
A. Robert Browning said a person's "reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?" I agree. There's always a to-do list. I wish we were further down the assessment road. It's not easy to answer the question "how do you know they're learning?" Grades are helpful, but not sufficient, especially if we're teaching habits of mind along with information. I also think about curriculum because it affects one hundred percent of our students. I'd hoped we'd have more science in the revised general education requirements. They'll be faced with complex scientific issues as citizens, and I think we could do more to equip them. I'd also like to see more cross-disciplinary courses that enable students to understand connections and relationships, versus silo knowledge. The Core/Worldview curriculum provides a good model for the interactions between disciplines, but I think we could do more.
Q. What do you look forward to about Michael Le Roy's leadership as dean?
A. Each dean puts her or his stamp on the institution, and I think we're each influenced --
perhaps more than we'd like to admit -- by our disciplines. For example, Darrell Guder was a theologian and challenged us to look at the implications of our Reformed roots, a legacy that continues. My training is in education and English. My immediate concern has been the learning climate of the college, from general education to Weyerhaeuser to hiring faculty who love their students as much as their disciplines. I think Michael, as a political scientist, is well-equipped to help the college think well about structural issues and collaborative relationships to accomplish Whitworth's goals. How might faculty workloads be revised to emphasize individual strengths? Is there a more effective academic calendar or credit system the college might use? How might Whitworth develop additional national or international collaborations? He'll have fresh insights in a variety of areas, and I look forward to them all.
Q. We know you're returning to the faculty, but what will you be teaching?
A. I'll be teaching in the English department, Core 350 in the Core/Worldview program, and courses in language arts for education students. In the fall I'll begin with teaching Literary England, the literature course in the British Isles Study Program. Imagine --
Wordsworth taught in the Lake District and Shakespeare taught in Stratford. What a way to return to teaching! I didn't expect to do the study-abroad program, but the English department needed to have it covered and asked me to do it. I thought for at least 15 seconds before saying "yes." The best part -- as I know from teaching in past study programs -- is spending 24/7 with students.
Q. What do you most look forward to about returning to the classroom? What are you most afraid of?
A. Clarence "Clem" Simpson was my teacher-mentor when I was a Whitworth undergraduate. In his time he served as English professor and department chair, academic vice president, and even acting president before returning to the classroom to complete his career. His most recent Christmas card had this note at the bottom: "I am glad to hear that you are returning to the classroom. For me administration was very interesting, but teaching was my true vocation." That's the way I feel. I went into teaching because I felt called to work with students. At this point I've spent one-half of my career in the classroom, and one-half in administration. I've loved administration, especially working with 100 percent of the faculty. But I long to be back with students, pursuing ideas, honing intellectual skills, and -- as fundamental as it sounds -- pursuing the meaning of life. I'll have a learning curve with classroom technology; I've been using administrative tools, and now I'll need to familiarize myself with learning tools, especially since all Whitworth classrooms have such wonderful access to the Internet and web-based courseware. But I'm sure my students and colleagues will be great tutors!
Q. Word has it you may return to teaching in the core program. Will you be reprising your captivating role in a certain Core 250 video illustrating methodological doubt in the modern era?
A. I have to admit that my willingness to make a fool of myself is legendary. Who knows what opportunities lie ahead!
Q. What do you hope to spend more time doing once your administrative responsibilities diminish?
A. I love spending time with our grandchildren (there are three here in Spokane). And as summer time opens up, I hope to do some cross-country bicycle rides, as well as another safari in Africa and antique car shows with my husband, Larry. Then there's always painting and fiction writing. Of course, I've not done either seriously to this point, but what better time to start?