At first I wasn't interested in crossing the line from faculty member to college administrator. After all, I was happy being an assistant professor of journalism and advising the student newspaper.
So I said no when the opportunity arose, but I had second thoughts. It could be a good career move and I would get a raise. The job was part time, and the offer did come from the college president.
So a year later, and the second time I was offered the chance to become director of public information (half time) and remain a faculty member at Bacone College, I said yes. That was 1994. I had been at Bacone since 1988, so I knew the campus and everyone involved -- which helped when it came to writing press releases and promotional pieces. My heart was already attached to the place.
While wearing two hats, I was very much in the loop, working side by side with the college's top executives, trustees, administrators, professors, and others. Since I was a former reporter myself, I was able to establish an immediate rapport with the local press, which came in handy as Bacone began a major transition to a four-year university, with a new president at the helm.
My administrative tasks included publishing a quarterly newsletter for alumni and donors as well as a weekly newsletter for the campus. During my time in administration, the college weathered its share of controversy: some fairly serious financial difficulties, including employee layoffs and a presidential resignation during preparation for an accreditation visit.
Even though I had become a college administrator, I still attended faculty meetings and was a member of the faculty senate. I still taught classes, advised the student newspaper, and ran the journalism department. Although I occasionally got the impression that faculty colleagues wondered if I was somehow "tainted," I felt comfortable interacting with them as well as with students and administrators.
My dual role continued for six years, until it became apparent that each of my half-time positions needed full-time attention. Happily, when I spoke with the president and academic vice president, they both told me, "It's your decision to make. Just let us know what you want."
So what did I want? That was tough to say because I liked both jobs. On the one hand I was able to write, take photographs, do layout and design, and be in that prestigious loop. Wouldn't it be a step back careerwise to return full time to the classroom? On the other hand, could I really give up teaching altogether? And could I actually allow someone else to come in and take over my beloved student newspaper staff after 12 years as adviser? And what if the full-time administrative position didn't work out? Then what? Would I leave higher education?
I probably could have flipped a coin and decided -- or so I thought at the time. But after a month of indecision, my administrative ambitions fell by the wayside and the advantages of academe -- and of academic freedom -- rang out loud and clear.
"I'm ready to go back to the classroom full time," were the words I echoed to the president and academic vice president. And from their reactions I couldn't tell which one of us was more surprised or relieved at my decision. That was in the spring of 2000, just in time to adjust the fall class schedule. My wages would remain the same (since I would be moving from two half-time positions to one full-time position, the president said there was no reason to reduce my salary). The only stipulation was that I stay on as director of public information until a replacement could be found. No problem.
I thought I would miss the spotlight, but as it turned out, there wasn't time. Change was in the works for both the journalism department and the student newspaper. We are working to take our two-year journalism program to the four-year level. Meanwhile, the Baconian, which came out twice a semester in the spring of 2000, began publishing monthly last fall, and is now biweekly.
All of the work paid off this past spring when the Baconian staff competed in two state contests and won an unprecedented 28 awards for journalistic excellence. But that wasn't the only surprise. During an academic awards assembly in May, the college announced the winner of an annual campus award for excellence in teaching. To my astonishment, my name was called.
A resolution included with the award reads: "Ann Marie Shackelford also maintained her classroom responsibilities and integrity, and, when the time to choose came, chose to return to the classroom as a full-time teacher, richer for her experiences, but demonstrating that first and foremost, she is a teacher and faculty member." That pretty well says it all about the decision I made, and it means a great deal coming from the other faculty members on campus.
I have fond memories of my six years as a part-time college administrator and even believe I made a difference. Would I do it again? Maybe. But for now, I still have a lot of work to do in the classroom.