Welcome Back! And other rituals of the fall

It’s getting darker earlier, and lighter later. The temperature actually dropped into the 50s this week (though it will warm again). Fall sports teams are on campus practicing, the new crop of resident assistants is ready to go (check out their video), new first year students will be moving in on Sunday the 30th, and classes will start (and parking disappear) on September 1.

Welcome back to school!

Summer on a college campus is a strange time. Parking lots that are crammed all year open up; sidewalks are open for navigation; classrooms and residence halls are cleaned and spruced up; the geese and deer and groundhogs (at least on our campus) outnumber the students; it’s a bit of a different look and feel to a campus—kind of lonely, actually. But now we are back to normal.

For those of us who have been doing this for some time now (I can’t come close to the true giants on campus, but student/faculty/administrator I’m close to finishing my fourth decade living the rhythm of a college campus), September is the new year. This is when we start fresh, when all is new, and the possibilities truly are endless.

As August comes to a close, I have been reading in the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed many variations on the same tune–and they are all true. This is an exciting (and sometimes anxious) time for new students, new faculty—and even us veterans. As a teacher, I always had just a bit of performance anxiety when I met a new class for the first time. Now that I don’t get to be in front of a class very often, that performance anxiety just transfers to different settings—new faculty orientation, Convocation, the first fall Senate meeting, the fall all-faculty meeting.

Returning to campus in September is also a ritual. We have new students moving in, welcome week activities, that first class meeting—and lots of little welcome back events and sessions.

One of those rituals (why, this very message meets the criteria!) is the welcome back speech or letter. For an academic administrator—President, Provost, Dean—it’s almost a requirement (which is one definition of ritual, after all).

CHE and IHE and other education publications have been filled with riffs and reactions to these rituals. Here are two of my favorites (so far). First, and faculty should feel free to use this at the fall all-faculty meeting (though I’m spoiling the game a bit), we have the First Faculty Meeting of the Year Bingo card (an all-purpose tool for any welcome back meeting). Yes, this is written in fun (a bit of snarky fun, but still in fun). What is interesting though (and why “in fun” often masks truths) is how accurate much of this is. We will talk assessment. We will talk budget. We will talk enrollments. And yes, we are all getting older and those “fun facts about freshmen” will reinforce that. We will talk about this because it is the reality of higher education. Some good (it is nice that we have new first year students with new perspectives) and some not quite so good (it’s never any fun to note that there is less money this year than there was last year). But this is higher education today.

Another interesting take on the welcome back genre is this variation on the welcome back letter. This one has a little less snark (so some would say a little less reality and a little more naiveté) and a little more seriousness. I find it pretty accurate (at least from my experience) from the perspective of faculty and the perspective of administration.

So take a read (when you can get a break for all the other work needed to start up a semester).

And welcome back!