The first day of my new "half-time" position as Director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Center for Faculty Excellence was a year ago today. I arrived here fourteen years into my life as a faculty member at the School of Law. In those fourteen years I had served on a couple of university-wide committees, found a few friends in the College of Arts and Sciences with shared research interests, and eaten lunch every now and then in a dining hall on the main campus. I'd used a couple of the main campus libraries. I think someone had mentioned there was a basketball team that played somewhere or other on campus. That was about the extent of my interaction with the university.
Three months into the new job, Iwas invited to a day-long campus event thrown by the Provost's Office called the "Senior Level Administrator's Briefing." It was a series of half-hour presentations by twelve top administrators about the pieces of the world they're responsible for. The Provost. Admissions. Finance and Administration. Human Resources. The Counsel's Office. Student Affairs. Promotion and Tenure. Research Administration. Budget. Fundraising. Information Technology. Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.
I walked out of that room a different person. Truly. A much smaller person -- or at least one who sees himself as a much smaller player on a much bigger stage. I'm not sure I have ever been as deeply affected by a set of presentations as by those twelve.
Universities are just breathtakingly big and complicated enterprises. They are small (or not-so-small) cities. People who run universities are overseeing an academic and research enterprise, to be sure, but they are also running (in reality or in effect) a huge hotel system, a police force, a massive catering enterprise, a sanitation system, an energy system, a complex computer network, a system of hospitals, a chain of fitness centers, a massive fleet of service and passenger vehicles, a vast payroll and benefits system, hazardous waste disposal systems, theaters and arts series, museums, animal care and maintenance systems, a system of public parks, and ... you get the idea. They employ -- and serve -- an array of constituencies that includes faculty, staff, and students on campus, but also faculty, staff, and students spread around the globe, a network of alumni across the state and around the globe, a network of employers and business and research partners around the globe, and on and on.
It's enough to make you dizzy.
I can't overemphasize the impact this one day had on my appreciation of how big this university is and how little is my (or any one person's) place in it. I would recommend the experience to any faculty member from any department. On a day when an appointments decision or the law school's attendance policy or the placement of an article is making you want to pull your hair out, it can help put things in context.
It's a big world out there.