By Evan Lee
Asst. News Editor
What is your academic and professional background?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in English, with honors, at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I started my graduate work at Indiana University and then left. … I finished my masters’ at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and then got my doctorate at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. … I have found it interesting just to go where opportunity takes you. … But [Indiana University] was a foundational opportunity in my life and in my career. It’s actually where I met the poet Yusef Komunyakaa initially. … And then a number of years later, after he won the Pulitzer prize, I was starting my first post-doctoral job at Adrian College – which was having some financial difficulties. I had just been hired, and they were on a last-hired/first-fired situation, and I was trying desperately not to be one of the fired. So, I was just busy doing everything. … Someone had said, “Oh, we used to have this great writer series, but then we dropped it,” and I thought, “I’ll just pick that up.” And the first person I thought of, because I really liked his work, was Komunyakaa. … So, he said he was interested in doing that, and I had to do a bunch of prep work to convince my colleagues it was worth the investment. That led me to write an abstract … for the Modern Languages Association. … When I gave the paper at MLA, it was well-received. And so then, all of a sudden, all these other opportunities came to me. So, I was an invited speaker at the George Moses Horton Society Conference in North Carolina, and Komunyakaa was in the audience. … While I was there, because I guess I did an OK job, someone came to me and said, “We had an article for a volume we’re doing, but the Komunyakaa article is not very good, and I asked Yusef, ‘Who could do a good job really quickly?’ And he said you.” … Anyway, those opportunities just kept piling up on each other, and ultimately, I wrote the book [on Komunyakaa]. …
I left Adrian College after being promoted and tenured and took some time off – more time than I wanted. But I wanted to write that book, and with a 5/5 load and chairing the department and chairing honors and being the faculty senate president, there was no time. There was just no time. So, I took a leave of absence. And then, I decided that there was a certain level at which I committed myself to being a particular person, and they kind of expected that of me when I got back, and I didn’t want to be that way anymore. So, near the end of the leave of absence, I resigned. … I taught at Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa. I started there in 2004. I did English courses once again, literature and writing, but I also taught within the honors program. I was elected as the faculty senate president again. But at the same time, an opportunity arose to begin an honors program [at Indiana University Southeast]. … I was fortunate enough to be invited to do that. So, I was 13 years at IU Southeast as the founding director of the honors program. … I built the honors program, I staffed the honors program, and I did the budgeting. … Then around 2013, one of my former colleagues applied for and was hired into basically my role [now at Framingham State]. It’s got a different title, but it’s the provost’s role. And we were talking, and he said, “There’s all this stuff to be done and I don’t know how I’m going to do it.” … And I was like, “Oh, well, I can help you with that. … So that’s how I became assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs [at IU Southeast]. Basically, I took off his plate things like accreditation … I convened the committees, I worked with people, I had colleagues who had tasks to do. I worked on program development. … I worked with enrollment management. … Then, our associate vice chancellor for academic affairs wanted to step back a little bit and refine some of her responsibilities, and then I took on a number of responsibilities as well. … And it’s all been really useful coming here [to FSU], because there’s not a thing that I did at Southeast that I’m either not watching with appreciation someone else do … or, I’m not in some way doing myself.
Can you describe your role as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs for FSU?
My responsibilities are pretty much anything academic. So, the faculty and their ability to work and interact and do their jobs with students is one of my primary concerns. … Our staff is incredibly important as well. They don’t often get mentioned, but think of places like CASA – they are an important part of our academic operations because they help our students meet their goals. … And they’re also one of my responsibilities. So, at one level, one of my responsibilities is to do my best to make sure that everybody has the appropriate conditions to do their work. And that’s complicated because there are financial constraints and there’s figuring out – when you know you have a particular constraint – what do you do? And how does that fit within the whole ethos of the institution? … What is important and what do we value? What do we want to invest in the future when we have a finite pool of resources? So, my responsibilities, essentially, are those – which might seem a little disconnected from students. But if the relationship between faculty is functional, and the faculty are able to do their work and feel supported by their deans and by their provost and vice president and so on – and not just feel supported, but actually, in meaningful ways, are supported – then that helps assure that the interactions between faculty and students are going to be positive.
From your academic and professional experiences, what advice can you give to students?
Everything is important, but not everything is absolutely life-changing. What I mean by that is you may have had several different paths that you explored to get to where you are now, and probably, there was a point at which you were feeling pressured because there’s this narrative where you go like a heat-seeking missile, you find your degree, you get your degree, you go out, and you do your thing. And that can make people feel as if the act of exploring, or feeling lost, or feeling uncertain ,is wrong. And this time, this moment right now, is being wasted. … I spoke to a student the other day, and she was almost apologetic. She was like, “Well, I studied this and I’ve studied that, and I’ve finally got my act together and now, I’m doing this.” And I wanted to stop and say, “Your act was always together.” So, that’s what I’d say – you commit to the moment and make the best of it. … Everything you do is important, but don’t feel as if this moment has to be the perfect moment, or your life is being wasted, because then you can’t enjoy your life.