This is the city: Fort Worth, Texas. This is the seminary: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A 108 year history. One of the largest in the world. Long hallways full of classrooms. Students from all over the planet. A world-class faculty.
For 12 years now I have walked her halls. I don’t carry a badge. I carry books. I’m a Dean.
The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
This week, spring semester classes will begin.
Students will make last-minute adjustments to their schedules. Faculty will make last-minute adjustments to their notes. At 7:00 am on Thursday morning you will hear the sound of seats being filled with bodies; laptop programs opening with their all-familiar tones; roll will be called, or taken; . . . and the first words of wisdom from credentialed lips will cascade over lecterns.
How do I know this? I not only walk these halls. . . I walk by faith.
It’s awkward being a Dean. I drop in on a faculty conclave in the hallway. “Have you completed your required TEU’s”? The temperature drops 20 degrees. You want to have a little fun; throw a party; and the Dean gets in the way.
All at once you lost your first name. You’re the Dean. The fuzz, the heat; you’re poison, you’re trouble, you’re bad news. They call you everything in the book.
It’s not much of a life, unless you don’t mind missing a Texas Ranger baseball game because the phone rings. Unless you like working Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, at a job that doesn’t pay overtime. Oh, the pay is adequate—if you count pennies you can put your kids through college, but don’t plan on early retirement or seeing Europe except on a television set.
And then there’s the faculty meeting. Suspicious, furtive looks from the faculty. “What’s he up to?”; “what’s he going to make us do this time?”; “what committee will I have to serve on?”
And you’re going to rub elbows with the academic elite—a President, Provost, other VPs, other Deans, Assistant Deans, . . . along with 104 Professors from six different schools who deal in boring stuff like Church History, Philosophy, Music Theory, Hebrew, Early Western Civ., Education, Archaeology, Missiology, and worst of all . . . English.
You inhabit a kind of no-man’s land. You represent the Administration to the Faculty and the Faculty to the Administration. It’s like wearing a confederate blouse and union pants—you get shot at from both sides.
Strother Martin’s line in Cool Hand Luke will run through your mind a dozen times each week: “What we have here is failure to communicate.”
You’ve got an impossible job. You’ve got to know your job and everyone else’s too. You’ve got to be prepared to run the starship alone in case the day comes that the Klingons have beamed everybody but you to an undisclosed planet . . . or all the crew is sick . . . or dead.
And then there are students; all kinds of students. The young ones and the old ones. The “Why didn’t I get an A” kid; the “It’s not my fault” kid; the “You mean that’s plagiarism?” kid. The “Sad story” kid; the “My professor’s unfair” kid. The kid who thinks he knows it all and the kid who knows he knows nothing. Students whose horizons of knowledge are the frontiers of their ignorance. The list goes on and on.
You walk your beat up and down the hallways and try to pick up the pieces.
You’ll run down grades, even curve them for the benefit of those struggling, only to have students complain about them. You’ll work all-night grading shifts. You’ll read enough papers until you think they’ve chopped down every tree in Texas and placed the thin white pulp on your desk.
Twelve years on the job and you’ve seen every prank in the book. Dry erase markers that won’t mark; caskets on professors’ desks; squirrel tails hanging from your door. For every prank that’s committed, you’ve got dozens of suspects to choose from. People who saw it happen—but really didn’t. People who insist they did it—but really didn’t. People who don’t remember—and those who try to forget. Those who tell the truth, and those who can’t handle the truth. Though mostly it’s the President who’s guilty.
And paperwork? Oh, you’ll fill out stuff all the time. You’ll sign it when you’re sure and you’ll sign it when you’re not sure. You’ll write enough words in your lifetime to stock a library or choke a spelling bee judge.
Then there are the Accrediting Associations and their five and ten year visits. Beady-eyed men and women with white gloves to run over your academic curricula to see if they can find a smidgeon of violation from their sacrosanct accrediting standards. Like the IRS, they’re here to help us. More paperwork.
You’ll talk to every theological nut-burger in the world who calls you on the phone to tell you why after 2000 years of Christian history, they are the only one who has figured it all out…and they feel compelled to inform you.
But there’s also this: it’s an endless, glamour less, thankless job that’s gotta be done.
. . . And I’m proud to do it.
My name is Allen—Dean Allen.