New Dean for Students: ‘The impact you make is important’
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 01:03
USF’s new Dean for Students, Michael Freeman, began on March 4, and in his brief time on campus, he said he looks forward to working closely with students on campus.
Freeman, who was raised in Chicago and went to college in Iowa and Maryland, has worked at several universities serving as a dean for students, a vice president, a graduate professor and other roles in student and academic affairs, most recently as vice president of student affairs at Tennessee State University.
Now, as the Dean for Students, Freeman said he looks forward to working with students on community, spirit and campus initiatives.
The Oracle: What made you decide to come to USF?
Freeman: Mostly I would say it was the written materials I read… The prospectus written for this position was very well-written. It told a story of an institution that is really on the rise, on the move with a lot of good energy. I read that first and said, “Ah, this is interesting.”
So then I started drilling down in different areas. I looked at the strategic plan — some of the progress that has been made here. I thought it was interesting. In the back of my mind, I am always looking for a place for my wife, a researcher in speech pathology; for a place where we can both have opportunities. USF Health and its affiliated areas here were pretty attractive. My wife, I won’t say she has a commandment, but it’s pretty close, that we live somewhere warm.
I think if you are at a bigger institution, the larger the institution, the span of control you have at a smaller institution can be just as significant at a smaller institution with a different title. I am not hung up on titles as much. As I get a little older in the field, from a 23-year-old to now, the more you understand that quality of life is important and the impact you make is important. I thought this was a big enough place where I would have enough to do.
O: What stood out most to you from the strategic plan and other information you read?
F: For years and years and years, I have always been interested in an alignment of student and academic affairs. Whatever it is, whatever that means, if you look at my resume, I weave back and forth between student affairs and academic affairs. I think it is anachronistic that we continue to divide the two.
For years, folks in student affairs used to just bemoan how institutions don’t love us and value the work we do and see the work we do as academic affairs. It shouldn’t be the case. You can still be partners. I always thought academic affairs and student affairs should come together. Now, policy makers, not by intention but by hindsight, are doing that. Folks in student affairs are going to have to think, ‘How we are going to connect to the academic core mission of the university? How we are going to make meaningful experiences for students that are going to be relevant in their lives after they leave USF?’
O: Since coming to USF, what do you like the most?
F: I like the spirit. There is tremendous spirit here. I am particularly pleased with spirit in two areas... I have observed students study and I get excited about students studying and working together. I see them in (the Marshall Student Center) and the Library studying in big groups… Students studying and collaborating in groups — I get a real kick out of that.
I also see students’ spirit out of the classroom. I’ve already been to three basketball games. I see the spirit is carried by different configurations of USF clothes. They have different choices of what to wear, but if they wear USF green and gold, that is suggestive that they don’t mind knowing they go to school here. The president is the biggest cheerleader for the school. I got a chance to meet her, and you can tell she is a huge fan and a huge booster. That helps. That sets the tone I think for the rest of the campus.
F: What do you want to accomplish as the new dean for students?
O: Number one would be assessment. I have to know what I don’t know… My approach to coming into a new culture is learning the culture. The trick is to not to become consumed, there’s a point at which, if you want to make change, if you wait too long, you become absorbed in the culture. If you want to observe the culture with the idea of making enhancements to the culture, you have to do it quickly enough. My job is to make assessments quickly enough, that if enhancements need to be made, I can make those recommendations.
Developing community is a big deal, and I want to be involved in that as much as possible: helping to shape it, helping to guide it and enhance it. I want to get to know students. There are 40,000 students on this campus alone, a lot of them I won’t get to know, but I want to get to know as many students as I can. So if there are issues students have, I might be able to help them and facilitate the help and answers they are looking for...
Students should feel free to experiment as much as possible. We are here, if we see students doing something that might be detrimental, to say ‘You may not want to do that,’ sort of as a safeguard in a lot of ways. College, people know it, is a time for experimentation. It’s a time to stretch your boundaries and actually make mistakes, but I tell students all the time to make recoverable mistakes. Make mistakes that won’t affect your life long term.