Serenading a student committee with “I Believe in Green and Gold” – a parody of the Four Tops’ “I Believe in You and Me” – may not have guaranteed Kevin Banks his position as dean for students, but it surely gave him a reputation. Not long after the ink dried on his contract, he became known as the “singing dean.”
Nearly two years into his position, he continues to live up to the name, belting out tunes by the Temptations and Larry Graham to liven up workdays.
“I used to joke that I was going to win American Idol, but I think that it’s too late for me,” Banks said. “The ‘singing dean’ name followed me from my last university (Pace University in New York).”
The singing comes in handy, he said, keeping him upbeat throughout a work schedule that often keeps him in the office through dinnertime and weekends. As the dean for students, Banks said he serves as a resource for students, helping them handle University-related issues and get involved in the community. This requires attending many events outside of the typical 9-to-5.
“Today, my day started with a 9 o’clock meeting this morning, and I’m busy until about 9:30 because I’m going to the NITE walk tonight,” he said Monday. “Some nights I stay late because I need to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on, and I need to be where students are.”
During the past week, for example, Banks spent Tuesday night emceeing a Greek awards ceremony and attended the University Lecture Series’ program featuring pro football players Ronde and Tiki Barber on Thursday. On Saturday, he dodged “molten lava” and completed the low ropes course at the Student Government retreat before heading to Sigma Delta Tau’s house dedication, and rounded out the night by cheering on the Bulls at the Green vs. White football game.
Associate Dean of Students Regina Young Hyatt said it’s this student-oriented schedule that really resonates with people. “I think that presence is very important,” she said. “It shows that he thinks what they’re doing is important, and lets students know that he supports their hard work.”
Banks describes the events he attends as part of the fun of his job, but said that composes only one-third of it. He lives and works by what he calls the three F’s, and the challenging part of his job is balancing the other two.
“I try to always be fun, firm and fair in everything I do. The part of the job that isn’t glorified is the discipline side,” he said. “I serve as the appeal process for students who have had things go bump in the night … we continually remind students to respect one another, which is an important role for our office.”
Working as a juvenile corrections officer for five years before entering the field of higher education helped him with this balancing act, Banks said. Getting the job, he said, may have had a lot to do with his imposing stature, which former coworker Jim Pillar compared to that of professional football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
Rather than giving him a hard edge, however, Banks said the job required sensitivity – a trait Pillar said makes Banks’ linebacker looks seem far from intimidating.
“He may look big and scary at first, but after talking to him for a minute you realize that he’s just a great big teddy bear,” said Pillar, who worked with Banks for six years at Monmouth University, where Banks served as the director of residence life.
During his time at Monmouth, Banks overcame what he called the biggest obstacle of his life: learning to persevere after losing his wife of 15 years to cancer.
“April is a hard time for me,” he said. “It was a week after my son’s birthday and right before Mother’s Day when the Lord called her home. I struggled with it, but learning how to overcome it, and then realizing that I could remarry – that I could meet a wonderful woman to share my life with – has been my greatest achievement.”
On a professional level, Banks left his imprint at Monmouth by starting a few traditions that have remained since he left in 2001. He encouraged diversity by hosting an African-American flag-raising ceremony on campus every Feb. 1 to celebrate Black History Month, Pillar said. He also served as Pillar’s mentor, passing on the mantra to “take a deep breath and pray on it” when work felt stressful, and started a trend of impersonating jolly old St. Nicholas during winter finals.
“Every year we do a midnight breakfast for our students, and he’d dress up in a Santa suit two sizes too small and hand out candy canes,” he said. “After he left we decided to keep it going, so I did it until 2005, and now somebody else is doing it.”
At USF, Banks has helped spark traditions such as the Golden Bull awards, which recognize student leaders in the University community.
“Dr. Banks was part of the committee that started the Golden Bull awards, and he helped launch the VP and Dean for Students Council, where the leaders of some of the larger organizations on campus meet with (Vice President of Student Affairs) Dr. (Jennifer) Meningall and Dr. Banks to discuss some of the issues they’re facing … It’s all part of how he advocates for students.”
When it comes to describing Banks’ personality, Pillar summed it up simply.
“Whenever you mention Kevin’s name at Monmouth, people just smile - and that is Kevin Banks,” he said.