Katie Conboy's Farewell Remarks

May 9, 2013


Twenty-six years ago this month, Tom and I drove onto this campus for the very first time. That day is indelible in my memory--I was coming to interview with the English Department for a 1-year position, and I felt sick. More than just nervous. Really sick. A few days later, we would discover that pregnancy was the cause of my queasy stomach. But I can still remember the deli we stopped at over in what's now the Starbucks-Bertuccis plaza, and how I declined a sandwich, but then snarfed down most of the one Tom thought he'd purchased for his own lunch. (I imagine this isn't the first time or the last time that you will think, "Poor Tom!")

The semester was over, and the campus-unlike summers these days--couldn't have been sleepier. Tom and I shared that sandwich under a tree in front of Duffy, and we can both testify that those trees were considerably smaller then. Well, the whole campus was considerably smaller then-no dining commons or residence halls up here at all, no MacPhaidin Library, no Sports Complex, no Martin Institute or Shields Science Center. The main road has moved twice since that day. Well, I got hired, so I assume my interview with the department must have gone well, but that's easy for me to say since there's no one left from that English Department now to contradict it!

When I received the offer, I remember wondering if it was smart for me to leave the relative certainty of an ongoing half-time position at Tufts for the relative uncertainty of a one-year full-time appointment at Stonehill. As I wrote in the most recent Alumni Magazine, I knew I might get a job, but I didn't know that I would also get a life.

Call of Duty
The second moment I want to recall is the day of the Stonehill Christmas Party in 1999, when Fr. Bartley McPhaidin, then President of Stonehill--made an unprecedented (in my experience) visit to the second floor of Duffy. He had already taken the rather unusual step of placing every full professor at Stonehill on a ballot and requesting that the full-time faculty vote for the person who should serve as interim Academic Vice President and Dean. As I was locking my office door, he arrived to tell me that he would like for me to serve. There would be a Provost search committee named soon, he assured me, and I would be back in my department in just six months.

I was 41 years old; I had just been promoted to Professor a year earlier; I had been a department chair for all of 18 months; we had three children under the age of 12; and I had no idea what it meant to be a Dean. I didn't know if I would like the job--I only knew that I would do anything Stonehill really needed--for six months. I have to emphasize that I did not know what the hell I was doing!

Words of Wisdom
Two things stand out from that moment. One is that the faculty was quite demoralized at the time, and Tom reminds me that I came home and told him I hoped I could leave things a little better for faculty after a few months.

The other is that I visited Fr. Bob Kruse, who had been a much-beloved Academic Dean at an earlier Stonehill moment. At this point, he was Executive Vice President, and I asked him what had made him so successful as a Dean. I was looking for concrete advice, and here's what I got: Bob said there were some deans he knew who were unsuccessful because they were skeptics. They enjoyed arguing against everything--even things they agreed with. He said he thought that in order to be a successful academic leader, one had to be a romantic. A romantic? What did THAT mean? I knew there was some hidden wisdom in his words, but I didn't know what!

Well, in thirteen years in the role, I've come to my own conclusions about what Bob meant. To be a romantic in this job is to be capable of falling in love with other people's ideas and then using the available resources in such a way as to realize them. Whatever successes I've enjoyed in this job, they have all been the result of shared ideas and shared work. Work shared by faculty and staff across the whole institution. Work designed to improve the student experience in all its manifestations. And as for that six month job I was offered in 1999--well, the rest is history.

Strong Connections
You may have noted that uncertainty was at the heart of the two moments I've already mentioned. And the final moment I'll mention is marked by hesitation as well. Last spring I went to Fr. Mark to discuss taking a sabbatical and to let him know that I was considering a transition out of the Provost role.

If you can sense that I was tentative about leaving Tufts for a one-year position at Stonehill or about stepping into the AVP and Dean role for six months, you cannot begin to comprehend the mixed emotions I had about possibly leaving a job I loved, a job I still enjoyed every day, a community of people I care deeply about--no let's just put it bluntly: a community of people I love.

I mean, where else can one call the facilities team, the conference and events services group, Sodexho and have them respond, in the middle of clearing a major snowstorm, to the death of a faculty colleague and her family's desire to hold the services at Stonehill? Where else does the Provost find a natural partner in the Director of Purchasing when planning a fund-raiser for the widow of a former faculty member? Where else does the Director of Communications and Media Relations respond with such helpfulness, humor, and wisdom to a question from the Office of Academic Affairs? (That Martin McGovern sure knows how to make people look good and how to have fun doing it).

Where else can you twist the arm of a reluctant faculty friend & colleague to step into a Dean role in order to ensure the success of a new General Education program? (You know who you are, Sue Mooney). Where else does the Provost count among her friends and close collaborators the CFO and the finance team? Where else can you can you call an IT tech and get not only a quick fix on your computer, but also advice on window treatments, kitchen countertops, and ladies handbags? (Thank you Luke!) Where else do the Faculty Senate and Department Chairs work quite harmoniously with the academic administration? Where else does the Center for Teaching and Learning partner with the Counseling Center to ensure that faculty understand aspects of student experience outside the classroom? I could go on here, but you get my point. Why would I ever leave Stonehill?

Fr. Mark's response was incredibly generous: yes, I could have the sabbatical (he noted it had been 36 semesters since the one and only sabbatical of my career) and yes, he understood that I might explore other jobs, but the provost job was mine if I wanted to return to it.

But over time, my certainty about transitioning only increased. Fr. Mark announced his own July departure. I knew very well that there was an Associate Provost/Dean of the Faculty who would be a great Provost for Stonehill and who could give a new President a fresh perspective. And then the role at Simmons became available, and I was lucky to be chosen in a very competitive search. I knew-and I know now-that this is a good move, full of challenges and opportunities. But it was also the most difficult decision of my entire life. My stomach was queasy for some time--though this time I knew I wasn't pregnant!

Those three moments--my interview, that blind step off a cliff into administration, and the flash of recognition that it might be the right time to go--correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of my Stonehill career. Somehow, with circumstances that could never have been planned, I ended up with a perfect balance: twelve and a half years as a faculty member, twelve and a half years as an administrator, and a closing year of sabbatical. And, as I said in the Stonehill magazine, a life. A life of community, a life of the mind, a life of really good and rewarding work. I have always believed in Stonehill, and I continue to have tremendous confidence in Stonehill's future.

Words of Thanks
I could never thank at this moment all the people who made my life at Stonehill so wonderful--it would simply take too much time. But there are a few people I really have to mention.

First, I want to thank the people who already spoke today, Heather Heerman--who represents for me both students and staff--someone I have had the pleasure of watching "grow up" at Stonehill--someone who left my classroom only to become-much later-a colleague and friend. Richard Finnegan, a beloved faculty friend and colleague, a real first among equals in the faculty for sustaining what we all hold dear: rigorous teaching, a lifetime of scholarly pursuit, an unflagging dedication to Stonehill. Fran Dillon, also dear friend and colleague and a constant source of support to me among all the wonderful Division Heads I've had the pleasure to work with. Joe Favazza. What can I say? Hiring people is kind of like a shotgun wedding: you read a letter, you have an interview or two, and you offer them a job? It's kind of crazy. I've done a lot of great hiring over the years--but what a deal I got in Joe's arrangement: the best right arm anyone could ever wish for, a close friend, and a successor who will do wonderful things not yet imagined at Stonehill. Thank you all for your parting words and for all you have been to me through the years.

And Fr. Mark, thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself. Early on, you continued to insist that I was the right person for this job, even when I declined it and demanded that the Provost search go forward. Obviously, I ultimately remained the CAO. You have given me so much space in which to learn and grow, and while I'm sure I have not always been the easiest of colleagues to deal with, you have always made me feel that I could contribute in valuable ways to your administration. I thank you for your support, your loyalty, your friendship, and that sabbatical!

I also want to thank the Board of Trustees, who appointed me and who have so graciously and fully supported my proposals for the college these last dozen years. Special thanks to Marsha Moses (the best Academic Affairs committee chair one could ever hope for!) and to the Board leadership: Chair Tom May, Vice-Chair Bill Devin, and past chairs David Finnegan and especially Tom Shields who remains my good friend.

I'm almost done. One person who did not speak today was Nancy Dunsing. And what would I do without Nancy? The Office of the Provost has gone through so many changes in the last dozen years, but Nancy has been a constant for me--as Elaine Melisi was before her. Nancy is the person who makes everything work, who makes the Provost look good, who plans events and brings grace and wit and wisdom to the decisions of our office. She is the heart of the place. She is also a good friend. Many thanks also to the others in our wonderful Office of Academic Affairs--Mary Boyd and Paula Lutton, and the marvelous Craig Almeida who has brought the college's emphasis on student achievement to a new level. We get a lot done in our office, and we have a lot of fun doing it. I will miss that spirit more than I can express.

No current students spoke today, but I hope I have always made it clear that students are the reason this place has for being, and I am pleased that a few former and current students were able to join us today. From the former students who, like Heather, now work at the college to early students like Shannon McDonough to Jay Zysk (class of 2005 and now a newly appointed tenure track-professor at the University of South Florida) to more recent graduates like Jay Lynch and Jasmine Khubchandani to current students, I hold each of you dear in my experience here, and I know we will stay in touch.

Lasting Friendships
I consider myself friends with so many of you in this room--from every area of campus life--that I hesitate to mention specific friends. Some of you have been my friends for a long time, others for a shorter time. Some of you know I asked for your spouses to be here today-because they too are special friends. I cherish every one of you. But behind the scenes, there have been a few people who have been my close friends though the whole of my career, and although they all began as faculty colleagues, it is really their friendship I want to thank them for--they didn't give me up when I went over to what faculty like to call "the dark side." It's not always easy to be friends with the Provost, but in these relationships, we set Stonehill aside and preserved those more fundamental connections that began long before I held this title. Jane Nash, Barbara Estrin, Chet Raymo--thank you.

And the last person I want to thank is someone who doesn't have a title at Stonehill, though he probably should: my husband Tom O'Grady. Indeed, there might be no one here more loyal to Stonehill than Tom. The fact that so many of you know him is a testament to his presence on campus! Although he likes to call himself-rather irreverently-the Prince Consort to the Queen of the Summit, he's no tag-along; he is among the most accomplished people I know, a professor and writer whose CV runs dozens of pages long, and who distinguished himself in his fields while somehow propping me up, waking me up with coffee every morning, running our three daughters around to their various activities in those long mini-van years when I had so much less flexibility, and basically duct-taping and safety-pinning me together every day. Tom, you're the love of my life, and you know it. But today I thank you, and I think Stonehill does too.

Never an Ending
I know I'm not going to something better than Stonehill, just something different. Change will be good for me--and good for Stonehill too. As many of you know, Tom is also on sabbatical, and we had had the opportunity to spend the last two months in Paris. Calling that change "rejuvenating" would be a real understatement. It was a remarkable time to learn, read, write, reflect-and especially for me, it was a chance to reconnect with the intellectual roots that brought me into the academy in the first place.

One of the books we both read while we were away was, perhaps predictably, Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of living in Paris. Hemingway's last paragraph of the book begins this way:

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.

After two months in the City of Light, I have to agree with Hemingway. But as I recall his words today, I am also aware of how, for me, there is never any ending to Stonehill. How I will always return to it, no matter how it has changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it can be reached. How it has always been worth the efforts I have given to it, and how I have received so much more in return than whatever I have brought to it.

Thank you all. I miss you already.

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