College of Education Faculty Oral Histories

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Dr. Steve Permuth

SP: Yes it was a former student. We were dressed to the “T” and then we found out that this elegant restaurant that we were going to was a “greasy spoon.” We found this young man to be so affable and within himself, not star glazed at all. This whole town protected him because if you’d ask about him no one knew who he was. Trust me everybody knew who he was. That was one of the more insightful and good things here. I think the other things that may not be necessarily all that humorous.

I’ll just tell you one of those exciting moments with our previous provost, Tom Tighe. We had gone through questions of budget reductions as we do every year and we had an inspirational thought from a legislature, which by itself is contradictory, but it was kind of inspirational. We were asked to reduce our budgets by 25%, if you remember. I sent our e-mails to all of you saying “how can we reduce this by 25%?” So we had all kinds of what Provost Tighe would call “emergency sessions.” So the humor came at the end of the year when we were talking about schedules for next year and when we should meet. So he said we would meet regularly at these times and that was okay and he said are there any others. Given my laid back sense of self, I said “when are we going to schedule our emergency meetings?” I must say, I thought it was rather hilarious, but the provost didn’t respond the same way. I think this is kind of a nice place, and for me my life is not only focused on the University. I have a terrific family. I have three wonderful children. I have my first grandson and a second on its way, but the University is an extended part of my family and it is primarily composed of the good people and you are one of those good people.

No organization exists alone. The basic quality of an organization is the function of the quality of its people and a college of education is no better or worse than the composition of its faculty. If you have a good group of faculty, no matter who the administration, you have credibility and the students will get the education they deserve. I think the other humorous moment I think was if I can describe it was getting a parent on the phone who said my name is so and so, my child is enrolled in your college and I caught 20 minutes of the most blistering, derogatory, hostile calls I ever met. I immediately go into the computer to find out more about this student and I must say I was delighted because 20 minutes into it I said, “Excuse me, is this your child’s name?” The parent answered, “Yes, that’s my child’s name.” I said, “You are calling the dean of the College of Education, you want the dean of the College of Engineering. Let me transfer you.” At that moment I went out and said it was time for lunch and it was about 10 in the morning. But this has been for me just a great journey.

LB: Now you’re doing some writing, some books and so forth?

SP: Yes, I’m enjoying writing. One of the issues with administrators often is that they see administration as their career. Mine was always being a professor and being an administrator. Although I had 17 years of administration, it was an interruption in my career goal of being a professor. I have a book coming out next month on researching legal issues in education. We’re close to a contract on a publication on the area of educational policy in American schooling, which I think will be closed. There is another contract in on a school law publication, so I’m really very much enjoying it. But again, nothing more than the classroom satisfies me in many ways. Teaching and being with students is a rare opportunity. A large number of our students are becoming administrators in schools and we’re everyday getting calls saying, “I’ve been appointed a principal” or, “I’ve been appointed an assistance principal.” We’ve had very good fortune with three or four of our people becoming superintendents of schools. It’s just a delight and my basic comment again for the College of Education is that our purpose is really to think about the people we are educating more than we are ourselves and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.

LB: On that note, what sentiments could you share with a young person coming into the College of Education having selected teaching as a profession or career?

SP: I’m one of those who really believes that teaching can still be one of the great opportunities of life as can being a professor, as can being a administrator. It’s what you make of it. I would say that the teacher of today is faced by dilemmas that weren’t facing when we started teaching. Dilemmas, I believe, in technology. Teachers often ask, “Can I get the resources?” or, “Do I have enough time with doing the paper work I have to do?” On the other hand, if you’re looking for that position where you want you to go home completely “whacked out” everyday from work and say it was worth every minute of it, then no job does that better than teaching and again I think that’s the same whether you teach, at the university level or you teach in the K-12 schools. My wife is a elementary school teacher. At home in the evening when we’re both just watching television, we just talk about how tired we are and how worth while it is being tired. I think that’s the reward of good teaching. The invitation is there for the best.

LB: Are there any questions I haven’t asked you or should’ve asked you, thought I might ask you that come to mind or things you can share with us?

SP: I just think the final thought again is that we’re in a change of governance structure in the state and I don’t think that’s a minor issue. We’ve gone from a fairly democratic education focus to one which is a governance focus. For educators, it’s a hard thing to believe it is a hierarchy of power that’s different from the way it was. My commentary is that good educators must know how to adjust. You must understand what’s happening and you must know what’s going on. Then if all is well, if you want to change it you change it from within and you establish whether you’re a member of a union, you’re a member of a faculty group, you’re a member of AUP, or the Senate to make change that is effective, but do it in the context of what’s right and I really think that would be the final thought I’d give.

LB: Well I thank you for your many contributions to the College as a dean and as a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, and most importantly for coming over this morning and sharing this with us so we can have it for the 50 Year History Project. Thank you once again.

SP: My great pleasure, Lou. Thank you.

End of Interview

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