My journey to higher education was circuitous. Prior to my first job as full-time faculty, I embarked on two entirely different career paths informed by two separate graduate school experiences and punctuated with nine moves across three countries, and four children thrown in for good measure. In other words, it’s a long story. A quicker story (you’re welcome) centers on the TV show that best represents my journey in higher education: The Chair. This Netflix series starring the magnificent Sandra Oh chronicles the first year of a newly elected English department chair at a small liberal arts college.
Anyone who’s served as an academic department chair will recognize the story arc: The department’s first female chair begins the semester with big ideas, brimming with optimism for her department, students, and colleagues, and then literally and figuratively falls out of her chair. Crises emerge immediately: Budget cuts with an expectation by administration to reduce faculty; Lack of opportunities for diverse faculty; Managing the fallout from an accidental but inappropriate classroom moment by a revered faculty member. And did I mention the student evaluations that no one seems interested in reading? And the ongoing struggle over faculty offices? The Chair works through all of these challenges with humor but doesn’t shy away from the very real and often seemingly conflicting concerns of faculty, students, and college administration.
When I became a department chair, I worked optimistically but also quickly realized that some days would feel conflicted as I navigated challenges with faculty colleagues who I admired and wanted to support, students who deserved a consistent learning environment in which they could thrive, and our administration who were trying to manage competing resources with transparency. Sometimes we succeeded. Sometimes we fell short. But thankfully, throughout my time as department chair, the most constant thread was grace. Grace extended to frustrated colleagues. Grace shared with confused or worried students. And grace offered to me by all.
Now I have a different role but I haven’t forgotten the healing feeling that accompanies extending and receiving grace. I hope grace will be the thread that runs through our time here at GCC as well.
And if you see me fall out of my chair, don’t worry. I’ll be fine. But also … help!