January 26, 2016
As the spring semester gets underway, and I struggle to get caught up with various tasks, it's high time for me to write a few lines about a topic that is dear to my heart: the saving of Sweet Briar College! I mentioned that Sweet Briar had closed down in my blog post of June 30, 2015, when I was explaining my unusual three-job situation in the spring semester of last year: Bridgewater College, Sweet Briar College, and Central Virginia Community College. Only a week or two later it was announced that Sweet Briar would not close after all, thanks to a wonderful, spontaneous movement of alumni called Save Sweet Briar, to which I had pledged and donated a bit of money.
Well, that meager gesture of good faith on my part must have triggered some kind of cosmic karma, because soon I was offered a full-time position to teach at Sweet Briar, just before I left on vacation to Canada and South Dakota. As soon as I returned I got extremely busy preparing for three courses: Intro to Comparative Politics, Theories of Comparative Politics, and Intro to International Politics. The first two I had taught in the spring semester, while the third course I had not taught since my days at James Madison University, over ten years before. (!)
For the International Politics class, I had the students prepare for and conduct a diplomatic simulation, kind of a mock United Nations Security Council meeting, and it went very well. I concocted a fictitious world crisis in which troops from Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized most of the port city of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia, after Shi'ite Muslim dissidents seized two mosques in that city. That hypothetial scenario turned out to be eerily similar to the real-world crisis that happened a few weeks ago: Iran issued blunt threats to Saudi Arabia after the latter executed 47 people accused of terrorism. (See aljazeera.com.) In response, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations in the region cut diplomatic ties with Iran, amid fears that tensions might escalate toward war.
Anyway, I relished the experience, and was delighted to get to know quite a few excellent students, including some who are majoring in Government or International Affairs.
One of the most positive changes at Sweet Briar has been the new president, Dr. Philip Stone. He is a former president of Bridgewater College, and I am told by my former colleagues there that he is very highly regarded. I heard him speak at the Fall Convocation on August 25, and on Founders' Day, September 25. He made it very clear: Sweet Briar will prevail! (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the speech to the college which he gave today.)
Regarding the previous president of Sweet Briar College, James F. Jones, Jr., I think the less that is said, the better. Without any warning of impending financial trouble, last March 3, just before spring break, he abruptly announced to the assembled faculty that Sweet Briar would close permanently at the end of the semester. When that was announced by a local TV channel that evening, I could not believe what I had just heard. Sure enough, it was in the newspaper the next day, and when I arrived for my 9:00 class, the students were even more stunned than I was. Some of them didn't even come to class, understandably.
For me, one of the worst parts of this tragic episode is that the lives of colleagues I deeply respect were turned upside down, causing untold family angst. Many of them had no choice but to take teaching positions elsewhere, before the "reopening" was announced. It leaves me with mixed emotions as I embrace the academic challenge with the sobering knowledge that my good fortune came at the expense of others, in effect. To find out what was behind those dastardly deeds, see followthemoneyatsweetbriar.com.
The future looks bright at Sweet Briar, with over 200 students expected to matriculate as freshmen next year -- the Class of 2020. (Understandably, this year's freshman class was miniscule.) There remains some uncertainty over which programs and which majors will be retained at Sweet Briar, and some cost-cutting measures are to be expected. Colleges and universities across the country are in varying degrees of financial stress, while many warn of an impending crisis due to the "balloon" of student debt, similar to the mortgage debt "balloon." In any case, I would love settling down and making a career at Sweet Briar, so we'll see how things go...
On Friday, November 6, NBC Late Show host Seth Meyers came to speak at Sweet Briar, being the "prize" for some kind of intercollegiate competition that Sweet Briar won. Seth is a very funny and very bright guy, formerly the chief scriptwriter for Saturday Night Live. He talked to the students about his career path and how he succeeded in a very tough environment. He grew up in New Hampshire, and went to journalism school at Northwestern University, after which he tried his hand at various stand-up comedy acts. He even spent some time working as a comedian in the Netherlands, which must have been different for an English-speaking comic. His message to the students was clear: Whatever situation you are in, produce something original whenever you have time. Don't fret about social networking or getting the highest grades, just establish a track record of effective performance and achievement that will catch the attention of potential employers. Indeed!
The nice folks at NBC (now part of Comcast!) gave everyone who attended the event a tote bag full of goodies such as a frisbee, sunglasses, mini-speakers for iPhones, etc.
NOTE: I will have to update my Academics page in the very near future.