I am not a big dog on campus. I know this, of course, but I am reminded of it occasionally, and that happened this week. I was leaving the rec center on campus, and the volleyball coach was there setting up for an event. She wanted to talk to me about one of her players, she said, so she was glad she had run into me. She started explaining that the player needed to miss my class in order to serve at the event she was setting up, a lunch for breast cancer awareness. I had no idea what student she could be talking about.
My confusion must have been clear, as she continued explaining, saying that the student had spoken to me, but that I had said she couldn’t miss the class. I didn’t remember any student talking to me about missing class, so this just deepened my confusion. She mentioned the student’s name, and I assured her I didn’t have a student by that name, which then confused her. Finally, she said something about the class being a lab, and I realized what had happened.
There is another professor here with the same last name, and he teaches in the sciences. Thus, the coach had simply confused the two of us. I assured her that it happens all of the time. In fact, I get email about Physical Chemistry on a fairly regular basis, and I simply reply to the student and tell them who they need to contact. If he gets emails for me, my students have never told me they sent it to him first, and he’s never mentioned it.
It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone around campus knows me, as I’ve been here for thirteen years, and I’ve been pretty visible during that time. As a smaller, private institution, we don’t have an overwhelming number of faculty, still under 200 I would guess, and we see each other monthly at faculty meetings. My conversation with the coach was a nice reminder of the relative anonymity, even on a campus as small as ours.
This interaction led me to think about influence on campus, actually. There are a few people who know me who probably think I have much more influence than I do have, only because I have influence in a few small, very distinct areas. However, when I need to get something done, I go through the same hoops anyone else does. Since I talk to people who have real influence, I can see just how different our situations are and, thus, how different our approaches have to be.
What this means, then, is that I have to be much more persistent than those who have real influence across campus. I have to take one approach, then another, then another. I find my ways blocked (or my attempts ignored) just like everyone else does, so I have to drop back, look for another way, then go back and try again, possibly with a different person (sometime in a different area of campus).
As with many work places, those of us who work in institutions of higher education have to be dogged (pun intended) to see real change effected. It doesn’t happen quickly, and it doesn’t happen easily. It takes people who are willing to just keep coming back to the same idea again and again, to take whatever approach it takes to make things work. I could talk about politics here, but that’s a separate post in itself. I’m thinking more about the perseverance it takes more than the maneuvering that always goes on. Too many people don’t see changes they want because they are unwilling to put in the time to keep coming back to what they want to see done. I might be a small dog, but I’ll hold on for as long as it takes.