Message from the Dean – November 19, 2018

First some good news:

Sydney Jennings graduated from UCO with a Dance Education degree in 2014 and is now working for Element Music NYC as a singer and event manager. She was recently cast as “Lou Ann” in the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” which opened on Halloween just outside of Boston. Congratulations Sydney!

More good news:

My work, “Brockton Tea”, which is in the permanent collection of the Fuller Craft Museum, was featured in the November, 2018 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

Now a story:

I attended the Oklahoma Hall of Fame induction ceremony this past Thursday evening in Tulsa. The UCO delegation appeared in celebratory support of businesswoman extraordinaire, Mo Anderson, a long-term and generous benefactor to the University. Other inductees included Carrie Underwood and “The Pioneer Woman”, Ree Drummond. The bandleader for the evening was UCO faculty member, Jeff Kidwell and professor emeritus Lee Rucker played trumpet. The razor-sharp jazz ensemble featured a pair of current students, Collin Ferrell and Vince Norman as well as a host of UCO alumni. The star-studded event was black tie, which produced a wave of nostalgic memories for me.

Previous to Thursday night, the last time I wore a tuxedo was March 13, 1983. It was my wedding day. I was 20 years old, fifty pounds lighter, and sported an embarrassingly wispy moustache. I married my best friend that day, and during the subsequent 35 years, Sandy has become my life’s witness. She would attest that during the vast majority of those years, my work uniform mainly comprised mud spattered jeans and a generally clean tee-shirt. If clothes make the man, my clothes made me a potter. For special occasions, I owned a sport jacket, purchased at Goodwill while I was in high school. When Provost Barthell offered me the CFAD Dean position, I inquired concerning the dress code. He informed me that suits were de rigueur. Thus, every suit I own is less than two years old. There are still days when my closet feels like Superman’s phone booth. I enter as a potter, and exit as a dean, hoping nobody yanks my cape.

As a dean, I attend a significant number of meetings in my “uniform”. I rarely leave these conferences feeling like Superman. Last Friday, I attended the exit interview with the on-site team from our National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) accrediting body. During that meeting I learned that the faculty, students and leadership of the Department of Art and Department of Design qualified as superheroes. The pair of professional NASAD assessors stated that this was unequivocally the most impressive onsite visit they had attended. They described the self-study documents as remarkably thorough and professional. The reviewers used the word “jewel” to describe our programs. The superlatives flew like webs from Spiderman’s wrists. The faculty were styled as “research one” quality without the selfish preening. The reviewers were impressed that we prioritize student outcomes, while maintaining personal artistic productivity on a high level. They praised our collaborative collegiality. Despite difficult budget years, faculty were portrayed as hopeful for the future. The assessment team prodded our students for discontent. In reply, the students represented their teachers as mentors: available, helpful, and appropriately demanding. The student work, hung on walls, covering every plinth, and piled on any available flat surface was described as outstanding. The reviewer’s impression was that Art and Design at UCO were exceptional programs, woefully short on space. (We are working on that). I felt so proud and grateful, the buttons of my suit nearly popped off. It takes a village to successfully complete a NASAD site visit, and our village pulled together like 300 Spartans.

The true educator’s life is not a “suit” a person wears on Sundays or for special occasions. The praise heaped on the Departments of Art and Design is indicative of full-time super-teachers. We may have paint or clay on our jeans. We may wear comfortable shoes and an apron to the letterpress lab. The clothes may “make the man”, but only a conscious daily decision to prioritize students results in the marvels we possess in CFAD. The ripple effects from choosing to unselfishly serve as true educators will last generations. Thank you.