Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

Jim Soles:

Connecting with students, alumni and friends

The weekend

I usually work at my office several hours very early on Saturdays and Sundays and then spend the rest of the time with football, books, family and friends. These early morning hours provide me with uninterrupted time to think, read and write.

Saturday, Sept. 21

I spent the morning deciding which of the several conferences on teaching and learning I wanted to submit proposals to this year. I finally decided to target the Lilly Atlantic Conference (new this year), the Lilly Conference South and the Eighth Annual Conference on College Teaching and Learning. I've presented at the last two conferences before and they are among the most useful I've attended. I think I also will apply for the American Bar Association's higher education conference on "Technology and Its Impact on Privacy, Civic Discourse and Higher Education." From the description, it sounds as if it was designed just for me.

I've decided that all my proposals this year will focus on technology and learning. I will probably explore how technology can be used to implement the goals of personal contact, frequent feedback, cooperative efforts, active learning and diverse talents and learning skills.

About 4:30 p.m., my wife, Ada Leigh, and I went to a "West Chester Victory Party" given each year by Ketty and John McLaughlin following the UD-West Chester Game. The party features great chili and, if possible, even greater company. For the most part, these are people with whom we have shared almost 30 years, and it was a warm, relaxing evening.

We left the party at 9 p.m. to join another reunion of old friends at O'Friels Irish Pub. Some talk of politics, more of what has been happening in each other's lives, but the Irish entertainer was too good to ignore for very long at a time. We made it home early Sunday.

Sunday, Sept. 22

At the office only fairly early, but the price for late hours must be paid. I worked some more on the outline for the presentation proposals, but also began to outline another document. It will be my recommendations for the Task Force on Citizen Involvement in the Judicial System, established by Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey.

One news story incorrectly credited me with some very good ideas that originated with someone else so I feel doubly obligated to provide some useful ideas.

Home for lunch and the rest of the day.


By the time the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., I've usually been awake for a while thinking about the day ahead. I read the Wilmington News Journal and The New York Times and am in my office about 7. I turn on the coffee in the office, check the day's calendar, read and reply to e-mail, respond to voice mail and read any new editions of the Review and Update. This leaves me an undisturbed half hour to write letters of recommendation and, optimistically, time to locate in the Soles' filing system-stacks of stuff everywhere-materials needed for the day.

Monday, Sept. 23

Someone must have announced today as Alumni Monday. I usually hear from about four alumni a day via visits, phone, e-mail or mail, but today began with a visit from a present law school student and the morning continued with phone calls from six other alumni. Some were social calls, people "checking in," but a couple needed letters of reference and one was calling about an upcoming visit to Newark. The e-mail was also heavily alumni, as it frequently is on Monday morning, and I was updated on several people.

I finally got Ada Leigh's and my application for new passports mailed. We are joining Prof. Jim Magee on his justly legendary Winter Session study trip to Italy and the passport applications reminded me (again!) that I must finalize the readings for courses I will be offering.

An upcoming workshop and seminar I am conducting at Thomas Jefferson University on the management and teaching of large classes took about an hour on the phone.

Lunch, a sandwich at my desk, was also an opportunity to talk with two prospective students for the Italy trip.

Twentieth-Century Delaware Politics, an honors seminar that I am co-teaching with Prof. Carol Hoffecker, met at 2:30 p.m.

Carol's enthusiasm, good humor and absolute mastery of Delaware history make working with her an unalloyed pleasure. The students are very good and bring an amazing array of talents to the course.

Tuesday, Sept. 24

If Monday was Alumni Day, this was media Tuesday. Much of the morning was spent talking to journalists about Delaware politics and the upcoming elections. Most are concentrating on the presidential, senatorial and house races, but there is also some strong interest in the governor's race. Talked with Kiplinger's, Congressional Quarterly, the United Press, Associated Press and Gannett's Washington correspondent.

Delaware has a strong preference for incumbents and, although there are some good races by challengers, one doesn't take a great risk by predicting that the incumbents will win and that Clinton will carry the state again. I always feel I learn more from the reporters than they do from me. They are usually very perceptive about what is happening across the country and are willing to share their views and insights.

Agreed to speak on "What the Political Media Does For and To Us" at the Athenaeum Society and to analyze the election results in tandem with Prof. Joe Pika for the Delaware Association for Public Administration. Unfortunately, the election year always brings more speaking invitations than one can possibly accept.

Talked with two students today about senior check-out and one about her transfer credits. I still marvel at how the computer's instantaneous access to student academic records makes the advising process so much easier for both students and faculty.

The main activity of the afternoon was a meeting to talk about the nature and future of undergraduate education with Dr. Charles Karelis, director of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The group provides important support for innovation, and Delaware is one of 10 schools he is visiting because of our previous grants and reputation of openness to change.

Tonight was a seminar on retirement. I think retirement, to amend an old adage, is like a hot dog-only appealing if you don't know everything that goes into it. But, sooner or later, few of us can resist a hot dog.

Wednesday, Sept. 25

Wednesday morning is always devoted to office hours. It is the time of year when pre-law students are among the most frequent visitors, so I saw a number of them this morning. I also talked with the two students doing independent study courses with me.

My undergraduate research assistant, Nick Pullen, Delaware '97, came by with the mass of material I had asked him to locate for today. He has quickly become indispensable.

Between appointments, I checked out some of my favorite web sites (PoliticsNow, the Gallup Poll, The New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education). I was glad to see that PoliticsNow agrees with my assessment of the Delaware campaigns. My criminal justice colleague David Gulick dropped in to say hello and noticed my difficulties reading the computer screen. Within minutes, he had Aaron Uydess, Delaware '97, a student computer whiz, in my office. Aaron installed Microsoft Explorer on my computer so that I can enlarge material on the Internet. The real proof of his genius is that he taught me the rudiments necessary to use it in minutes.

My afternoon office hour was spent talking with students who are taking the Political Internship course. It's pass-fail and offers variable credit to students working in political campaigns this fall. I first offered the course in 1970, but I goofed last spring in not anticipating student demand this fall. We have over 40 students enrolled, but it could never have happened without the continuing patience of Claudia Fischer, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Science, and the hard work and good humor of Ramona Wilson in our office.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Today began with a 7 a.m. breakfast at Friendly's restaurant with Judy Greene, director of the Center for Teaching Effectiveness. I was particularly interested in discussing the teaching assistant development committee that I am co-chairing and also the Technology Task Force, chaired by Larry Peterson, professor of music, where I am on one of the subgroups. As usual when I talk with Judy, I came away with renewed enthusiasm and many new things to think about.

I talked with a number of students during the morning, since it's my rule that if I am in my office, I am in to students. One visit reminded me once again that many students lead complicated lives and some of them are heroic in the face of real difficulties.

Lunch was at the Deer Park with three alumni from Wilmington. We talked about their children's college searches, a discussion designed to make me feel a hundred years old, but it did give me the opportunity to point out that their UD educations had served them well. Anyway, once you have taught not only the children of former students, but also the grandchild of a former student, how much older can you feel?

Friday, Sept. 27

Today at 9:30 a.m. was the first meeting of the University's Promotion and Tenure Committee on which I am serving for the first time. This was a basic orientation session, and we will meet two or three more times before our work begins in earnest after the first of year. The committee will then be tremendously time-consuming for a brief period. Plan ahead.

There were a host of messages requesting some type of information or assistance waiting for me back at the office. In short order, I agreed to serve as a member of an advisory panel for a research grant proposal, to speak at a mock convention for high school students, to approve a revised proposal for an honors thesis, to attend the next meeting of the Delaware Historical Records Advisory Board and to furnish a copy of a speech that I delivered last May-which will have be reconstructed from memory since I spoke from notes.

In equally rapid order, I discussed some recent polls with a journalist for a downstate paper, slightly modified and approved the minutes of the Delaware Heritage Commission (which I chair), declined two invitations to spend two hours on the road for 30-second television appearances, answered a few questions for a Review reporter and accepted two invitations to receptions honoring colleagues and/or friends.

In the afternoon, I had a chance to discuss the proposed revisions for the arts and science degree requirements with Joe Pika, our department chairperson, who has made major contributions of time, energy and thought to developing the report. One of the best aspects of the proposal provides the opportunity to develop thematic course patterns that could be really creative.

Ada Leigh and I made our usual Friday night foray out to eat, Japanese tonight, and then went over to the new Rainbow book-music-coffee store. It is really well done, and I treated myself to three Calvin and Hobbes anthologies. On our way out, we met some friends who were about to have coffee and accepted their invitation to join them. Lots of fun and laughter.

And, tomorrow, the greatest fun in the world begins all over again.