When someone says that they don’t have enough time, Abbot Placid has a response I’ve always liked. He says, “How can that be? You have all the time there is. They aren’t making any more.” Along the same lines, Dr. Thierfelder hates the cliché about giving 110%. He’ll say, “100% is everything! There isn’t an extra 10% hidden anywhere.”
My first August as the College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty made me feel the point of both sayings. The rush of students and faculty back to campus, not to mention preparing for the new academic year, had me turning over every stone and every leaf looking for more time, more effort. Like Charlie Brown always hoping that this time he’ll kick the football, I kept thinking I’d find something. And like Charlie, I didn’t. All I did was distract myself from the good and needful things claiming my attention.
About half-way through the month, as I was pacing about, the poster of the Benedictine Hallmarks on the wall of my office caught my eye. Two at the top of the second column, right below the picture of Fr. Arthur & Fr. John at Mass, stood out: obedience (a commitment to listening and action), and discipline (the way of focusing energy and attention). And I was reminded, not just that I’d forgotten those two wise sayings we started with, but that I’m still new to being the dean after fifteen-plus years as a professor.
A new academic year is an occasion to greet people as they return (or arrive for the first time!), to listen to their hoped-for goals as well as share my own, and then to focus on the actions that will achieve those goals. All the necessary tasks of an academic August are grounded there, whatever one’s role, and not in counting up the time spent or the efforts made. The particular role of the dean is to listen more carefully to more people, and to focus with greater attention on the whole framework of actions that make up the College’s academic program.
That’s what I’d missed, until I listened and heard what the Benedictine tradition was trying to tell me. Unsurprisingly, August picked up and I’m looking forward to September!