By Timothy Austin, Dean of the College
It was almost four months ago that Fr. McFarland offered me the position of vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. Since then, I have been busy with all of the tasks that a cross-country move entails, and I have experienced many emotions—from regret at leaving behind a wonderful group of friends and colleagues at Creighton University to excitement and anticipation as I enter my new life at Holy Cross. The following notes offer a taste of my first 30 days here on the Hill.
A friendly limo driver picks me up at Bradley International Airport. As we turn off I-290, I find myself wondering whether the city of Worcester and the College should pay him as their spokesperson. He has boasted about the city’s link to space exploration, reviewed the College’s major sporting achievements, and offered a “Top 10” list of the cultural and recreational opportunities in the region.
A pair of students—athletes, I suspect—take pity on me and help hoist my two heavy suitcases up the steps to the front door of O’Kane. They point me toward Fenwick 115, and I walk in to a friendly greeting from the members of the Dean’s Office staff. This will be the first of many warm welcomes on this friendliest of campuses.
I have asked the chairs of all the College’s departments for an opportunity to meet with them individually for about an hour and a half. These visits will represent my first chance to learn in detail about the academic life of the College.
Today’s appointment takes me to Alan Avery-Peck’s office in the department of religious studies. We discuss the scholarly interests of his faculty colleagues, the areas in which they teach and the relationships between the department, the Chaplains’ Office, the Jesuit Community and the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture. Our 90 minutes pass too quickly, but I leave with a vivid impression of the department’s vitality, and promise to return after the start of the semester to speak with its faculty as a whole.
I shall repeat this process 16 times during the month of August—not to mention meeting with those who supervise critical ancillary units, from the libraries to the Cantor Gallery.
My furniture arrives—finally! The afternoon and evening are spent unpacking boxes and finding spaces for their contents in my Shrewsbury apartment.
Fr. Jim Hayes has graciously invited me to Mass, followed by dinner with the Jesuit Community. We enjoy a leisurely meal (including my first New England lobster since my days as a UMass graduate student) and exchange stories about the Jesuit institutions at which we have served. I recognize—not for the first time—how disorienting I would find it to work on a campus that did not share the very special Jesuit vision of education.
The longer I belong to this extended community, the clearer it becomes to me that we are linked by much more than a shared vocabulary. Faculty, staff and administrators at Jesuit schools understand that their rôles are formative as well as instructional; they take pride in the fact that the graduates of their institutions move out into the world not only as highly competent young women and men but also as individuals of conscience, conviction and compassion.
I see on my PDA a scheduled meeting of the Crisis and Catastrophic Emergency Postvention team—which sounds pretty daunting. It transpires that this team has gathered to discuss how faculty, staff and administrators should respond if (Heaven forbid) some crisis should occur on campus. We run through case studies, and I am struck by the care (that word again!) with which those around the table probe constantly to see whether every member of the community would have the support and encouragement that he or she needed.
Ed Isser, chair of the theatre department, has invited me to an open-air performance of As You Like It in Green Hill Park. (I have been a fan of outdoor productions since my undergraduate days at Oxford, when I worked as a “techie” on several shows; more recently, I served on the Board of the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival.) Under Ed’s direction, a local company that includes a healthy number of Holy Cross students, faculty and alums mounts a spirited performance that holds the audience spellbound despite intermittent sprinkles. I drive home reflecting on other opportunities for collaboration between the city and the College.
The President’s Cabinet meets off campus for a one-day planning retreat. This is my first chance to interact closely with my fellow vice-presidents and with Fr. McFarland. The tone of the discussion is upbeat and collegial; an ambitious agenda is agreed to; and I am pleased that I have already begun to develop a reasonably clear picture of how the puzzle-pieces fit together.
The first-year students have arrived!
In my first month, I have learned so much, met so many people, taken pages of notes … but none of it has seemed quite real. The campus has remained largely deserted, the classrooms suspiciously free of chalk dust, the hallways silent except for the occasional echoing footstep. Now, as a steady stream of SUVs and UHaul vans rolls up past the Fieldhouse, I get my first sense of what the Hill will feel like once it is fully occupied and fulfilling the purpose for which it is intended.
At 4:00, Fr. McFarland celebrates the Mass of the Holy Spirit. The threatened showers hold off, but the Kleenex tissues come out as first the faculty and then the parents bless the young women and men who today become the newest Crusaders.
At 7:00, I have my first opportunity to speak to them. I decide to be frank about my own newcomer status and ask them to accept me as an honorary member of the Class of 2010. As I stress in my remarks, they and I still have much to learn about this very special place. But I have enjoyed my first month on the Hill—the first, I hope, of many to come.