One Decidedly Thoughtful Dean

The goal of The Scroll is to intentionally tell stories that reflect our mission and describe the good work of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents. In sync with much opening-of-fall-semester-excitement, I’ve pondered with much enthusiasm the topic of my first-of-fall blog.

Maybe I could make some smart metaphorical connection between the palpable energy of new students and how we responded (quite successfully, if I do say so myself) to the squirrel that recently found its way into our living room?

Or I could feature the four young men – kind and gentle, diligent and thoughtful sophomores – who moved into the rental house a few doors down from campus and on our beloved Portland Avenue block? Not yet. In fact, the students seem so focused on getting off to a solid start that I decided not to distract them with a camera and pad of paper to jot their names/goals/majors and hopes for multi-generational cookouts and block parties. Instead, I’ll interview them – plus snap a few photos of their living room décor if they allow – when I bring them the traditional welcome-to-the-hood cookies.

Instead, here is a sweet and simple story about something our interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences did this summer. As a person who has dedicated her career to studying interpersonal communication, I am the first to admit my choice of this topic is situated in the classic and contemporary literature on the multiple uses and benefits of symbolic affirmation – both verbal and nonverbal (aka, saying “Thank you!” and how good it makes others feels).

Dean Terry Langan spent the better part of his summer crafting and sending each and every member of the CAS faculty a personal note of appreciation for his or her work, dedication and contributions to, in his words, the “University, the College and our students.” Dear Carol … Dear Bernie … Dear Pete … Dear Lisa … and hundreds more. In each note he mentioned multiple and detailed efforts and accomplishments as a teacher, scholar, leader, advisor, colleague and/or community member in 2010-11. Hundreds of notes. Dozens of hours. And countless rushes of good feelings among us.

Awww, how sweet. And wow, how gracious and generous were his gifts of time and intention.

I wrote back immediately to Dean Langan – as I heard most of us did – and reciprocated the love. His choice to send personal notes was heartfelt and –no question – a really nice reflection of our St. Thomas mission.

In fact, Dean Langan’s notes continue to be talked about well into the busy weeks of our fall. Probably, I suspect, because explicitly expressed appreciation is, simply, quite attractive to us humans. Large and small, we Homo sapiens love knowing if/how/that/when we are affecting the world/others/people/institutions.

That’s really our mission here, isn’t it? To take part – large and small – in creating good, moral, critical-thinking, other-centered, community-minded, wise human beings? Indeed it is. And indeed, we each play a part in that noble work. We affect others.

Thank you, Dr. Langan, for your having a big impact on hundreds of your colleagues. May all of us be so wise to – as my late friend Professor Russ Connors was remembered for this summer – see the goodness in everything. And when we finally slow down enough to see it, let’s make a Dean-Langan-inspired effort to also say it out loud!