Pulling It All Together: What I Have Learned as a University Administrator

By Radell, Sally A. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Pulling It All Together: What I Have Learned as a University Administrator


Radell, Sally A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Over the past 17 years, I have had the opportunity to build a dance program at a university with resources, but no extensive history of the arts. This role was one that I never expected, nor specifically prepared for in graduate school. At my initial job interview with my future physical education colleagues, the conversation primarily centered on fishing and other leisure activities, some general university issues, and my pending wedding. It slowly became clear to me that my passion for dance and my ability to develop a dance curriculum were not areas that the others were trained in. They were, however, interested in creating a dance program at the university. I also realized that far more important to them than my work in dance was the kind of person I was. What were my values as a human being? Could I listen? What did I care about? Was I concerned about others? Would I be a thoughtful and supportive team player?

At the time this was curious to me. I had just spent four years in graduate school, attended countless dance workshops, and, frankly, had spent my whole life immersed in dance activities, preparing for this profession--yet the questions on these topics were few.

Today I realize that their questions and concerns about me as a person were directly relevant to the work that needed to be done. Through on-the-job training, I continue to encounter powerful principles that directly govern my work ethic. In fact, the understanding and application of these principles has determined my administrative success at building a dance program in a university setting. Here are these permeating values:

All the pieces have a purpose. Community includes all levels of stratified authority; it is about everyone working together. "Everyone" refers to all personnel--from the custodial engineer who maintains one's working environment, to the secretary who compiles report material for delivery, to the upper-level administrative officials who review budget proposals and grant funding. It is the complete cycle and the utilization of all of the pieces that makes our community and our lives work.

People want to be honored for who they are, what they know, and what they do. Every job in the university system requires a specific skill set. People commit themselves to these jobs because of the skills they possess or have trained for. Showing appreciation and respect to someone who processes data for you reinforces their self concept and supports the importance of their role in the overall university structure.

Everyone has something to offer. This is about being available, listening, and differentiating. Every one of us is a compilation of diversified and rich life experiences that have informed our individual thought processes in different ways. Being available, listening, identifying, and using what each person has to offer allows one to arrive at decisions, proposals, and initiatives with a more informed outlook.

Positive exchange promotes positive change. All people can learn and grow even if they are not aware that they are doing so. Advocacy for the arts and art education can occur anytime, anywhere. It can take the form of a casual conversation in a serendipitous campus encounter, an evening cocktail party exchange, or a conversation in a grocery store, as well as at formal presentations. Positive exchange promotes positive change in attitudes, knowledge, beliefs, and actions.

People respond to integrity, sincerity, fairness, and a concern for others. I have a favorite dean at my university, one who has continuously supported our program by allocating many additional resources. She has minimal knowledge of dance, yet we are both women, both mothers struggling to do our best, and both dealing with complex personnel issues.

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