Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting a Grip

I needed to move from a long-held professorship-deanship shortly after I turned 50. I mean, I had been part of that academic community for 20 years, but somehow I knew it was time to move on. So, I took a similar teaching-administrative position at another Arkansas university. It didn’t take two decades to realize it was time to move on from that place; it took only three years.

To escape from the office for a little while one Friday afternoon, I strolled over to the library on that campus and browsed around, coming upon “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” I scanned the headlines, looked at the obituaries, read a story on the bleak financial picture for public education in our state and then turned to the back of the periodical to look at the employment opportunities. One of these seemed to have a glow on it—a deanship at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. I jotted down the relevant information from the ad and then looked into some sources for information about that institution. What I found, both in pictures and words, was astonishing. It appeared to be a dream job.

My wife and I discussed the prospect at some length that evening. She had discerned that I was not thrilled with my current position. Our conclusion was that I should apply, which I did. About a week after I had mailed my application, we received a packet with pictures of that institution’s palm laden and fountain dotted campus, students studying at the nearby beach, faculty members earnestly breaking the bread of academics in state of the art, fully equipped classrooms. It was eye candy, so when they called and invited me for an interview, I went.

A sockless and bearded theology professor met my late flight at the WPB airport and spent an hour or two with me at the hotel giving me a rundown on the interview itinerary. Everything was peachy dandy, except for the fact that I thought the provost, who would be my direct supervisor, couldn’t stand me. Shaking his hand was like grasping a dead fish. He missed all my group presentations. He was supposed to take me to breakfast and to the airport my last morning, but he called my room at 11 p.m. the night before and told me to buy my own breakfast and take the shuttle to the airport.

I went home certain that I had blown my chances. But a week or two later, the provost called with wit, charm and good humor. He enthusiastically invited me to join Palm Beach Atlantic University as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English. The money was right, the family was agreeable, so I said yes, trying to hide my surprise at receiving the offer. Then the provost apologized: “Dan, I’m sorry for my demeanor while you were interviewing down here. I was ill with a lung infection and had to be hospitalized the day you left. We will be glad to have you on board.” The next time I saw him, his handshake had firmed up considerably.

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