Teri Hall worked as an administrator at Towson University for nearly 20 years. This week, she started a new job as the Vice President of Student Affairs at Wichita State University. Hall sat down with The Towerlight during her last few hours on TU’s campus. Our conversation is below–some answers have been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.
What’s the internal monologue today?
Well, you know, it’s hard to imagine not coming to work here, right? You know, I have driven to this campus for the last 18 and a half years and there are just so many people that I adore. The trajectory that the university is on is so exciting, the kind of construction. I drove up and I saw Campus Rec and the progress they’re making on that building, and it’s like, “Man!” The idea that I can’t drive up everyday and see the new progress being made is hard.
And at the same time, I know that it’s time. If this were easy to go, that says something else about my experience, right? I’m really excited about what’s ahead of me at Wichita State. The staff that I’ve met and the students have all been awesome. I feel like since I’m leaving Towson, this is the right place for me to go to. It’s the right position. It’s not any position, it’s the right position. So I’ve got all that stuff going on.
But my Wichita State email is up and running in front of me right here, and I’ve been communicating about stuff going on on campus. It’s been weird for the last month to have my feet in two worlds, and to kind of be pulled and torn and get included in emails that just don’t make sense to me, like what are you talking about? And then here, trying to figure out what are the last things I need to say to people, because I got a lot of stuff in my head. And of course I’m only a text or a phone call away, those kinds of things, but it’s just hard to imagine.
What’s going to be hardest about the move?
I am a bit of a savant with phone numbers, so if I want to call somebody, I just know their number and I can just call them. Well I’ve got to learn all those new numbers, all those new systems, so that’s hard. Certainly there are similarities between universities and how things operate and that kind of stuff, but it’s the little stuff like that. I had to look online for what my office phone number is, and I’m still not convinced I have the right number. That stuff I think is hard.
There are lot’s of times when new people start that for the first 6 months or year, they say, “Well, you know at Towson, we did…” And so, I really want to make sure that as I start at Wichita State, that I honor and value who they are and what they’ve done without the judgement of, “You know, at Towson we did it this way.” So that’s one of those cautions that I’m trying to make sure as I bring forward to that.
Personally, it’s just that I have a great life here. I have family here, I have great friends where I live, and so the idea of starting from scratch where certainly I’ve met the people I’m working with, but I know not a friend in the city. And so that’s a hard thing to think about.
What’s going to be the hardest thing to leave behind here?
I think students trust me here. They know I’m someone that they can come to and students from all walks of life. And so again, to have to start fresh some place and develop that, I think, certainly I know that I can do it, but it’s hard. So that’s going to be hard, but I’m lucky that at Wichita State, the man who was the long time Vice President for Student Affairs is still in the area, and he was a legend in student affairs there, his name is Jim Radigan. And so I look forward to being able to sit with him and to learn from him about the history in the context of Wichita State. So I think that will be good for me, because I have the history and the context here.
If I had to ask you to pick your favorite memory here, would it be like asking someone to pick their favorite child?
Yeah, pretty much. You know, it’s just so hard.
What was the first thing that popped into your head when I asked that?
We used to do this Book of the Year program. We did it with a whole bunch of neat books, and there was a whole bunch of faculty, students and staff who read these books. But the year that we brought Frank McCourt to campus, you know, Frank McCourt wrote Angela’s Ashes, he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author. The year that we brought him to campus and I got to ride around in a town car with him all day. And then we had this dinner where there were students and the administration and Mr. McCourt, and it was such a nice night. He was such an incredible human being. Former students of his, because he used to teach school up in New York or someplace, drove down just to see him because of the impact he had on them. So that was a nice night, that was a pretty awesome night.
You know, the first time I got to get the heavy hitter ball at an Orioles game because we had so many students go, that was pretty cool too. There were years ago, before Coach Ambrose, and we didn’t have a great football team, but yet we beat Delaware at Homecoming, and the team just ran into the stands and the students and the football team all sang the Fight Song together, that’s when we had the old fight song. That was an awesome, awesome moment. You know, we didn’t have the Campus Activities Board before I came. So when I think about the big concerts and what Tigerfest is now, and how this group has evolved, that’s a great memory for me.
Student government had 25 people on it when I first came, and to see the way that organization has evolved and the way that it has its own standards now. It’s a self-maintaining group in a way that it doesn’t need the kind of involvement that it once did early on. So I’m proud about that. There wasn’t student Homecoming celebrations when we first came, so to see what Homecoming has become on campus is really exciting.
You know I always say it’s the night of the election result for student government, I always cry, because there’s hundreds of students that are so connected and that are so passionate about this election, and inevitably I know the students on both sides, and they’re both great people, and somebody’s going to be a loser. That’s something I’ll never forget. Because that’s what we want, students to feel connected and want to be involved in their experiences.
Is there anything that you’d do differently?
You know, one of the things most people don’t know that know me know is that I’m a much calmer, gentler person than I was at the very beginning. I’m much more focused on people and relationships than on task, even though I still think I’m pretty good at getting stuff done. I think the initial me certainly is not the person that people interact with now. And so I think I would have told myself, “You don’t have to prove as much” and that there is time. There is time to do the kind of good work and the getting things done with people is better than getting things done through people. So I think that’s what I would say.
One of the other things I would do differently is when our football team wasn’t as great, and we were trying to get people to go to the game, we were doing anything we could to encourage tailgating. In the process, we allowed fraternities to tailgate, because we wanted them there to go into the game. Then as the Greek system grew and as we clamped down on off-campus house parties, tailgate then became what it evolved into at the very end. If I had to do it all over again, I would have thought about a different way to encourage fraternity and sorority participation at football games in a way that was more conducive to their national policies and university policies. So that’s something I’ve learned now, that you know, our intentions were absolutely good and honorable, but when a chapter size is 40 versus a chapter size is 100 and some, and then with all these other condition, it’s just…yeah. There’s nothing we could do about it now, but it’s something I don’t think we have still recovered from. And that’s sad, and hopefully in the future Greeks will get to a place where they can still support the team without needing to have raves in the parking lot. I know they’re going to get mad about me saying this, but it’s the fact.
The craziness, and I guess I could see if I were an 18-year-old student and people were throwing beer to me and it was awesome and yadda yadda yadda, but if somebody were thinking in their right mind, they’d say “This doesn’t really make a lot of sense that we’re doing this.” On university property, knowing who were are and what we’re doing, somebody should think, “Hmm, that’s not right.” And for me that’s the thing. Certainly we want chapters to follow their policies, but the idea that we let somebody so glaringly violate their policies and ours on university property is just silliness.
What’s been the biggest changes you’ve seen at Towson?
There was a point a few years ago when I was walking in the middle of campus and I realized how much we’ve grown. Because the whole density of students moving from class to class was very very different. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but they were traveling in groups of 10 and 15 versus three and five, and so I saw that difference. You know, I also think another thing I’m really proud of is the increase in student involvement. There were probably about 150 student groups when I came; there are well over 350, almost 400 if you count fraternities and sport clubs and all that, so that’s pretty awesome.
And I also think we’re at a place as an institution where students think the university cares about what they say and they think, right? And that I think was the most powerful thing for me a year ago in November when students took over the president’s office was. And I think in the subsequent conversation about it, students feel like they matter here. And I like that. And I don’t know if students always felt like they mattered here. If you talk to the students that were from the early ‘90s, even into my early time here in the 2000s, I don’t know that they felt like the university administration really cared about their experience very much. So I’m happy to have been a part of that change. I can’t take all the credit for that, but I was here during that time where I think students felt empowered and included and valued.
Do you think you’ve changed?
Yeah I mean I think I’ve changed in that I’m a calmer, gentler person. You know, I think one of the biggest changes for me was, we’ve done LeaderShape for 12, or I think we’re going into our 13th year this year coming up, and the first year I went as one of the facilitators, and I saw the way the students in our group…it was in January of 2006, and I saw the way these students were so honest and caring and helpful to other students. It really changed me. So when I talk about the kinder, gentler person, LeaderShape was part of that because you know, it really talks about being authentic and being your best self and leading with integrity, and not that I didn’t lead with integrity before but it just brought about something from my heart that was in there but had just been afraid to come out. I am, I think because of those experiences, I’m an authentic person. I’m transparent. People know what I think and what I feel, and when I want to hug somebody and care about them, I do all of those things in a way that I don’t know that I felt the freedom to do some of those things before those experiences.
Anything you’ve been dying to say?
Students matter here and I think that’s rare. I guess I would like folks to more often pause and stop to think this is nice, this is special. It doesn’t exist every place else.
Is that an attitude you hope you can create over at Wichita?
I hope so. It’s interesting, I joined the president’s executive team, and I’m the only female vice president. I think there’s a woman who’s Executive Vice President of the Foundation and she serves on it, and there’s a woman who’s assistant to the president for diversity and she serves on it, but beyond that there’s like 8 other guys that are vice presidents. So that’s going to be interesting. To be at a place that for the most part has been female-dominated for a while now, right?
Somebody asked me when I was interviewing if I was worried about the male-dominated hierarchy at Wichita State, and I said “well, I have 3 older brothers so I’ve grown up in a male-dominated hierarchy my whole life.” It’ll be interesting to see what that’s like.
To keep a culture of students mattering is easier than to start one. I’m not saying that I don’t know if it exists at Wichita or not, I just think it’ll be interesting to see. They’re an institution of great change too, and it could be that way back when when Towson was on this trajectory of great change, that’s when students didn’t feel necessarily very included either, so it could be. We’ll see how that is. I think we’re better at managing the growth now than I think we were early on. So we’ll see.
Are you excited to get started?
Yeah I’m excited. I’m excited, I mean I’ll be excited when I don’t have to put the address of where my office is in the GPS when I go so I can just get there straight through. I’m really looking forward to it because I think, when I heard some of the stuff with students and I think with the staff that I think they’re looking for are the kinds of things that I’m going to bring, in terms of relationships and energy and passion and just believing in people. I feel like I’m going to take those things. And so I am very excited. We have our first breakfast with the entire division. We get to celebrate the start of our new year together. To be introduced as the vice president at that time will be very exciting. I haven’t made my signature there yet as a vice president.
Interview by Cody Boteler