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K-State Today

May 26, 2015

A letter from President Kirk Schulz

Submitted by President Kirk Schulz

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Summer is upon us! Once again, we have made it successfully through another academic year and sent nearly 3,000 new K-State graduates onto the next steps in their careers. It is always fun participating in graduation, seeing the celebration of families, and knowing that our faculty and staff have made a lifelong impression on the newest K-State alumni. 

I was watching "Morning Joe" recently on MSNBC while on the treadmill, and they ran a segment on "Who Killed Summer Vacation" based on an upcoming issue of Time magazine. It was an interesting dialog, and one that is certainly relevant to all of us regardless of where we work. 

I remember fondly the two-week trips my family took in the summer. My parents loaded all of us — two parents and three children — into a Volkswagen station wagon, packed the 35-pound canvas tent and sleeping bags, and headed out to the southwestern part of the U.S. to visit my grandparents in the Phoenix area. We visited state and national parks along the way, and somehow managed to survive long car trips with no radio, no Internet, no air conditioning and no hotel rooms. We took hikes, played games and saw the tremendous beauty of the United States. These trips were truly memorable. 

The "Morning Joe" segment was focused on why families don't take traditional summer vacations in this day and age. One of the findings in the Time article was that the number of people who "stayed" connected while on vacation was incredibly high. People checked work-related email, sent work-related texts and downloaded work-related material onto personal computers. So, while people did take vacations, they did not electronically disconnect from work. 

Disconnecting from work can be such a hassle! You get back to work and have a ton of emails — all wanting immediate answers. The old-fashioned mail has piled up and cellphone messages are waiting; it is simply easier to "keep-up" than deal with the inevitable backlog of material awaiting upon your return. Thus, we are all more efficient by keeping connected while on vacation, right? 

Wrong. I believe it is important to disconnect from work periodically in a meaningful way. Every year, Noel and I ensure we are taking some down time to really disconnect from work. We place our work email in vacation mode, we turn off our work cellphones — which also have work email on them — and work hard to disconnect from work for a week or two. I still like to monitor social media — hard to believe. I read the NY Times online and keep up with online news, so I don't completely disconnect from the electronic world. I have a second cellphone to use, which doesn't have all my work-related email, texts, etc., on it. While all of this may sound good, does it actually work for us? 

I will admit the first couple of days in a two-week work hiatus are tough. I find myself worried about whatever the pressing problems were when we left and what is going to happen if someone needs my input. Days 3-10 are much better; my mind clears, the problems seem smaller and I focus on reading, observational astronomy, camping, family and other hobbies. By Day 12, I am ready to get back to work and re-engage with work-related emails, texts and those pressing problems, which somehow are still there. When I plow through the email on Day 14, I remind myself that it really isn't that bad to catch up. Amazingly, upon my return to Manhattan, I find that all the buildings are still standing, campus is operating well, we have landed several major gifts, and in general things are doing just fine. 

I have come to value this downtime. I find that I return more enthusiastic and energized than when I left. I have been able to spend some quality time thinking without the constant barrage of "immediate action needed" we all face.

While I am in my contemplative thinking time this summer, what will be on my mind? Here are a few items that I will be thinking of: 

  • How can we fund the many initiatives and needs we have at K-State? What is our funding model going to look like in 2020?
  • What should our enrollment goals look like in the future. Should we grow aggressively, modestly or not at all? 
  • What can I do to be a better leader?
  • How can we continue to manage and promote institutional change in a collaborative fashion?
  • Should I go see Jurassic World for a second time or wait for the DVD to come out and watch it at home? 

While it is important for each of us to find some way to refresh ourselves, I also insist that each cabinet member must take time off and disconnect for some time including no work emails and no cellphone calls back to K-State. I ask them during our review periods when they're going to do this each year.

This has been a busy, exciting and stressful year for many of us at K-State. I would urge each of you to find some way to disconnect from work this summer. Going on an exotic, expensive vacation is not necessary. A weekend spent on the Konza, a visit to one of the many Kansas state parks, time spent in your garden, biking across Kansas — whatever you choose — disconnect from K-State for some time. 

We are in the middle of some of the most trying times in public higher education. We are going to need all of our creative energies to continue to provide an exceptional experience for all of our students, and some time away will keep our creative energies high. 

Have a great, productive and disconnected summer!