On the End of the Academic Year: Some Personal Reflections

The life of an academic never changes from the days of college when life seems to start at the end of August and end around May. I still think of my year in academic years, and I think of time in terms of “semesters”. To some extent, “last year” just came to an end. With the passing of each academic year, I do lot of reflection what I learned, who I came to know, and what I accomplished. This year was incredibly busy, productive and rich — but a year that I was glad to have behind me as well because of the unusually busy pace.

Most of my friends can’t grasp my job at Pepperdine because I wear so many hats, and I’m not even sure that I grasp it all. But I essentially do three jobs: I represent the Provost in the creation of one of the largest new initiatives at Pepperdine in media arts, I also work for the Provost as the Director of a large Lilly Endowment grant program that encourages our students and faculty to reflect on their vocation, and I teach three political science classes along with a doctorate course at our Irvine campus in management and policy (which I am teaching now). I also am quite involved on campus, acting as the faculty sponsor for the Young Democrats and our Student Film Foundation, and writing quite a bit for our publications as well. The one thing I am not required to do is to write academic articles, and I couldn’t be happier about that exception.

Each new academic year brings special new students and colleagues into my life. My work with the Lilly Endowment project is among the most satisfying of my duties, though it takes the least amount of my time. I am privileged to distribute several thousand dollars of grant money each year to students who are doing the most incredible service and social action all over the world. One student, Mike Masten, received our grant for his trip to rural villages of Ghana last summer. He spent his summer building libraries for these villages. This year, he will return with 15 other Pepperdine students to build new libraries to increase literacy. And that is just one story. Law student Jay Milbrandt brought micro-credit to Indonesia, and some other law students are helping African nations to write their laws and establish their court system.

But it is my work in creating and coordinating our media initiative that preoccupies my energy, my thought and my passion. This year, I continued our efforts to create a consensus among faculty and administration about our direction, as well as brainstorm new degree programs in the media arts. I helped to establish a partnership with Hollywood’s Act One screenwriting program in which Pepperdine now is sponsor of their screenwriting weekends all over the country. I brought my cultural sociologist friend Dr. John Seel to campus for a series of meetings with prospective donors and administrators, and I conducted a few roundtables for entertainment professionals to give us feedback. I came to know my new friends at Participant Productions like Karen Switzenbaum who have become critical partners in our work. I had the privilege of coming to know some of the great leaders in entertainment and faith from Barry Taylor and Craig Detweiler (both who attend church with me), to actors Hal Halbrook and Dixie Carter (also attend my church), to Rob Moore (Vice Chair at Paramount), and many other screenwriters, producers and film makers that inspire us. I hosted a screening of “Amazing Grace” for Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and invited my good friend and its producer, Ken Wales, to speak.

The year ended with the new MFA degree in screenwriting slated to begin in the fall, a degree program I helped to create and shepherded through for approval. I finished our business plan for the Center for the Media Arts, and finally brought it all to a successful finish by leading a retreat with the Provost for senior administrators and faculty concerning this iniative. What’s next? We have a great vision. Now we need money. Anyone know Oprah?

I now enter into a fairly easy summer, though I have a few obligations. I am teaching a doctorate course on Tuesdays in Irvine during the month of May, a course which culminates in a DC experience that I will be leading for them during the first week of June. I will come back for a seminar on art at the Getty during early June, then head to Nashville where I will stay for the remainder of June. I’ll help my parents with some tasks, officiate the wedding for Steve Hackney and Alison near Indianapolis, then present a paper on presidential use of faith language at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville. I return home to LA in July and August for some writing projects and some possible consulting, but it looks like a fairly laid back summer in July and August.

I end the year with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity I have been given to do this work. In many ways, I feel that I’ve just shown up to watch something unfold that is much bigger than me, and I’ve just been along for the ride. It’s been quite a ride, and I’m glad to put on the brakes to breathe again.

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