Message from the Dean – April 30, 2018

First some good news:

The UCO Department of Theatre Arts recently completed a successful tour of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at several area high schools. The UCO students, led by Emily Heugatter, gained valuable touring experience, and the actors and student ambassadors also met with high school students, faculty and parents both pre-show and during “talkback” sessions after each show. “Our students represented all the best things about UCO,” Emily said.

Now a story:

My grandpa Hansen called me Stevie. Sandy tells me that my grandma Roberts once referred to me as “the funny looking one”. In grandma’s defense, I was going through a hippie phase and had shoulder-length hair, long sideburns and a goatee. I started teaching when I was still in my 20’s. Students were perilously close to my own age, and I remember an internal debate concerning how they should greet me. I did not have a doctorate, so “Dr. Hansen” was inappropriate. As an instructor, using “professor Hansen” would have been inaccurate. I had a Master’s degree, but “master Hansen” is not exactly a preferred honorific in academia. My family upbringing was informal. Our daily dishes were plastic and I would have been perplexed by a salad fork. In my professional life, I taught ceramics. My teaching wardrobe generally incorporated mud-spattered jeans and a t-shirt. Due to this blue-collar upbringing and casual teaching attire, I settled on encouraging students to address me on a first-name basis. I surmised that if I failed to win their respect by demonstrating exceptional skill and knowledge, forcing them to use an honorific would be akin to slathering lipstick on a pig.

As I gained gray hair, students increasingly called me “professor Hansen”, or just “Hansen” (Mmm Bop notwithstanding). In my new role at UCO, I am frequently referred to as either “Dean Hansen” or just “The Dean”. I have an uncle actually named Dean Hansen, so this title carries with it an enjoyable inside joke. As a rule, I am a bit suspicious of people who insist on labels. The phrase, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” is an aphorism hardwired into my consciousness. I do not expect a title to magically conjure the esteem of my colleagues. I consider respect to be earned, independent of an honorific.

One of the most potentially rewarding, yet challenging and time-consuming responsibilities I face as Dean, is to help diffuse and heal interpersonal conflicts. At their core, most relational disputes begin with a perceived lack of respect. Once we believe someone has slighted our intelligence, work ethic, title, rank, teaching ability, race, gender or skill as a practitioner, it is exceedingly difficult to forgive the supposed affront. It is possible to expend such a massive amount of emotional capital in being offended that all future interactions are only viewable through the prism of a negative past experience. Dropping our defenses long enough to discover resolutions based on empathy would allow for mutual growth.

Ideally, we need a shared understanding that expecting respect FROM others is less important than demonstrating respect TO others. We show respect by listening attentively to an unvarnished perspective that differs from our own and responding empathetically. A healthy skepticism of our internal philosophies is beneficial, and there is potential for exponential growth in entertaining the notion that a colleague may possess a superior idea or method.

Yes, we should absolutely treat each other with respect. Meanwhile, we control our own actions, and we choose our reactions. A strong sense of self, and an absolute commitment to helping students learn, can be the elixir that allows us to move forward toward mutual goals. We share a common purpose.

Please know, whatever your title or status as faculty, staff or student, if you possess a fantastic idea to improve the culture of CFAD, I’ll listen.

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