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Interview with Richard D. Dixon, October 31, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Richard D. Dixon, October 31, 2006
Date:
October 31, 2006
Description:
Richard D. Dixon discusses his career as a sociology professor. He came to UNCW in 1976 when the university had a population of 2900 full-time enrolled students (FTE) and around 100 faculty members. He discusses his teaching and research over the years, in particular his interest in the role of information technology in higher education. The conversation includes discussion of the Technology College at UNCW (no longer existing).
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Dixon, Richard D. Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 10/31/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 120 minutes

Riggins: Hello, my name is Adina Riggins. I'm the university archivist here at UNCW. I'm very pleased to have with me a very special guest for our oral history program. This is our university archives oral history program, which was created to further our memories and stories of UNCW that we have here in the archives. Please, Dr. Dixon, state your full name for the tape.

Richard Dixon: Richard David Dixon.

Riggins: Thank you. Thank you, glad for you to be here. Well, I'd like to start off as I do for most of our interviews, asking you where you were born, and where you grew up.

Richard Dixon: Well, I was born and grew up in a little town of three or so thousand people in the Northwest corner of Connecticut. North Canaan was the name of the town, and in fact most of my family is still in that area. My mother still lives in the house that I grew up in.

Riggins: Really?

Richard Dixon: Which is across the lawn from the house that she grew up in, and is a house that her father, my grandfather built, so I got kind of far away from home, but everybody else that I'm related to is in that immediate area, or elsewhere in Connecticut. I have a sister that's over on the other side of Hartford from my hometown, but it's about an hour and a quarter, something like that, away. Connecticut's a small state.

Riggins: Yes. So, when you grew up, was it rural? Or was it...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, was and is rural. A very beautiful area, actually. It's the northern most town in that part of the state, of Connecticut. It borders Massachusetts, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and it's quite a nice area.

Riggins: Yeah, it is.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, small mountains, but a lot of them, and still quite rural. The population hasn't changed much, but it's a very interesting area. In fact, all of the towns in that area are small. I went to a regional high school that served six other small towns, so that was home.

Riggins: That was where you hailed from. Well, please describe your post secondary education. What did you do after high school?

Richard Dixon: After high school. Well, after high school, I first went to work for Marriott and their food and beverage chain, hotel division actually. I stayed with them quite briefly, and decided against that as a career, and went for a Masters in sociology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and then stayed on after that for about two and a half years as an instructor there, and then went to Emery University for a PhD in sociology.

Riggins: And your undergraduate was where?

Richard Dixon: That was at the University of Connecticut. I finished there in '68.

Riggins: Okay.

Richard Dixon: And I was at Marshall, let's see, '69/'70 academic year, and then at Emery for all of '73 until-- the late summer is when I actually finished, and defended my dissertation in 1976 and then came here.

Riggins: Okay, alright.

Richard Dixon: So, yeah, I've been here 30-- well, this is my 31st year. I've put in 28 years of full time work here, and this is my third of three years of phased retirement, so I'm actually finishing up in a few weeks.

Riggins: Wow, so you were teaching this semester.

Richard Dixon: I am. Full time this semester, off in the spring, and my contract as a phased retiree expires at the end of June, next June, 2007.

Riggins: Does that mean you'll have your office and everything here through June, or...

Richard Dixon: I have an office. I was able to hang on to the office that I had occupied in the social behavioral building, well, since it was built until this year, actually. And that was because a couple of people in my department went on to other positions in the university, so we weren't cramped for space for full time people until this fall. There were three hirees this fall, so they moved me to another area that's quite satisfactory, in the same building. Yeah, same floor, same building, yeah, and it's quite nice actually.

Riggins: Oh, good. Backing up to, you were at U Conn and finished up there in '68, and then pursued a Master's Degree. What made you decide to go for a Master's in sociology?

Richard Dixon: Well, it was my undergraduate major, and it became my undergraduate major after starting off actually in pharmacy, and then deciding against that, and having a little bit of a look at economics, and deciding against that, and then I lost my deferment, because I stayed out of school for a semester to go skiing. (laughs) And put in a couple years in the army, '65 through '67, and that second year was in Vietnam, and that was actually my first out of country experience. And it was a pretty good one, relatively speaking. I was in a war zone, but it was a good experience for me because of the particular circumstances of the duty that I was serving, just outside of Saigon at the major airport there, the airbase, and, you know, I had already taken a couple of sociology courses previous to that, and at least one, perhaps two cultural anthropology kinds of courses before going in the army, which interested me, and the experience of being over there and seeing in some ways a radically different culture-- and in other ways not so different-- spiked the interest to continue with that as the undergraduate major. I had to major in something. I wasn't going back. And so I finished up in that, and the interest maintained.

Riggins: Interesting.

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: What about the, I don't know, the organization and the structure of the army? Did that pique your interest?

Richard Dixon: Well, no. I don't think that I can say that it did. I guess I learned a little bit about one type of bureaucracy while I was there. It had a very definitive structure, and the military is quite different from civilian life, and, I mean, it was, in retrospect, a worthwhile experience. I think most people who have served, or had to serve in the military would probably say that.

Riggins: Yes, because it's behind them.

Richard Dixon: Well, yes, but I mean you see things, you do things, and, you know, you experience things that are just unlike what you're locally to run into, in most avenues that you go down in civilian life. So, I mean, it was another way of living.

Riggins: Yes, yes. So you were just interested in pursuing that, and found your way to West Virginia. I guess, Huntington is kind of rural also?

Richard Dixon: No. Huntington is not. Huntington is, in some ways, quite like Wilmington is, because it's roughly the same size. It's right on a river, the Ohio River, in that case, and, well, at least when I first came here, and the better comparison between the two would be when I first came here, because Wilmington has changed, just as the university has, but a bit insular, somewhat provincial, you know, and with a fairly distinctive culture within the United States, you know, for an area within the United States. The Appalachian culture in that case. So, yeah, I think the population of Huntington at that time was 70-something thousand; the university had a six or six and a half thousand enrolment or something like that.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: And, oh yes, it was State U, you know, that kind of state university environment, as well.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: But it was, you know, a somewhat more of an urban campus in that the campus is right in town, and if you would move this down on Market Street to, you know, just outside the downtown area, it would be about the same.

Riggins: Right, yeah.

Richard Dixon: M'hmm.

Riggins: And then you found your way to Emery, which is a great school, and that must have been another experience, being in a big city.

Richard Dixon: Yeah. Well, I had been stationed for a while in Fort Benning in Georgia, and went on a couple of occasions into Atlanta, a weekend kind of a thing, and I took to Atlanta. Still love Atlanta. And while I was at Marshall I befriended a person who was a demographer, and actually finished up his degree, his dissertation and his degree at the University of Georgia while we were together. He was Indian, Oriental Indian, and he got me-- well, I already had some interest in demography, but he got me more interested in it, because that's what he was doing, and because of that relationship, for one, and because it was just an interest in demography generally for another, I began to look at other places to finish up the degree, and learned about the program at Emery. Demography was one specialization within that department, and, you know, just pairing up Emery's reputation with my interests in demography, and the fact that it was in Atlanta, a place that I liked from the experience when I'd been there. I never lived in a large city before, and so, you know, those things sort of led me to make that decision, which I'm glad that I did.

Riggins: Right. How was your PhD experience?

Richard Dixon: Great. Yeah, things went very well for me. I worked very hard, and I avoided some of the troubles that some graduate students get into. I was a little older, because, you know, I had military service behind me. I had some working experience, two and a half or so years as I mentioned, working experience, in the field all before I came back, so I was towards the end of my 20's. Twenty-- I guess I was about 30, actually. Yeah, I think I was 30 when I went back to pursue the PhD there, and so, you know, I was older, and had more experience than others did, so I knew the kinds of things that graduate students ought to do, and not do, and, you know, and I worked very hard, and I made what turned out to be a very good decision in terms of whom my dissertation advisor was. So, I mean, everything went...

Riggins: It makes a big difference.

Richard Dixon: Well, it made all the difference, you know, in my case. I mean, it was a pretty painless process as far as the defense of the dissertation went, and, I mean, all of the work that preceded it, too. You know, the course work, and the data collection work. I mean, it just all went very well. You know, I don't have any complaints, which is kind of unusual, you know.

Riggins: Yeah, you hear horror stories.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, and, you know, I was treated well. Well, I think deservedly so. I gave them my best, and they, you know, were cooperative, so...

Riggins: What was your research topic on your dissertation?

Richard Dixon: It was on out of wedlock child bearing, and I collected the data for it at Grady Memorial Hospital, which was a large and you could say a charity hospital, although on a sliding scale. But, I mean, a lot of their patients were, their costs were to some extent, and to a large extent in most cases, subsidized. It was located right downtown. I mean, right in the very middle of Atlanta, just a stone's throw from the Capital Building, and the Five Points area, and so forth.

Riggins: Yeah.

Richard Dixon: And I collected my data on the post-partum ward there. All of the women that I collected my data from were women in their later teens through mid 20s, poor, and black, and I selected those females only to interview. Actually, it was a self-administrable type of a questionnaire that they completed, you know, with my help, when needed, which was infrequent, to examine the phenomena that out of wedlock child bearing to see if there were any particular patterns to it, comparing those women with other women demographically the same, but who either got married first and had their children, or aborted their pregnancies. And the key question that I was looking at-- there was more than one-- but the key question really had to do with whether or not this phenomenon was one of those kinds of phenomena that runs in families, you know, daughters of women who bore children out of wedlock being more likely, or not, to have children out of wedlock themselves, and I didn't find it. I mean, that's the bottom line to come to on that, is that I didn't find that among those-- they were no more likely or less likely, not statistically different in that likelihood from other females whose mothers had not done so. Now there's other research has been done that disagrees with that, and the samples that were used there. A study of Wake Forest was one that particularly comes to mind to me, but I didn't find it there anyway. That's the short of it. So, and that's what I did, and I think my last year plus of time, about a year and a half, actually, while I was there was mostly or totally devoted to the dissertation collection and analysis, and write up. And I finished in '76, as I mentioned to you, and I came up here.

Riggins: Right. Wow, yeah, that was a lot of work you did. You devised the tool, the instrument, I guess, the survey instrument.

Richard Dixon: M'hmm.

Riggins: And then you had to-- you didn't distribute them individually to everybody, did you?

Richard Dixon: I distributed them individually, but in most, you know, the overwhelming majority of cases, I mean, they could fill them out themselves.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: Very infrequently was a question raised as, you know, "What does this mean, or that?" It was pretty clear. Well, I got help from each of the persons who was on the dissertation committee. You know, far and way the most from my advisor, who was a world famous demographer at that time, but also there was a sociologist whose office actually was right there at the hospital, one floor down from where I collected my data, but who was working for the med school. I mean, he was doing sociologically or social science kind of research for the medical school, and he was quite helpful. So things came together pretty nicely for me. Yeah, that's the short of it.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds great. Well, how did you manage to find your way to UNCW?

Richard Dixon: Well, I got a job offer. (laughs)

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: So, I mean, that's really the short of it. You know, I got a job offer here.

Riggins: You saw the advertisement in the...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, where did I see it? Probably I saw it either in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and/or-- well, I certainly saw it in the employment bulletin for the American Sociological Association, but probably in The Chronicle, as well. Yeah. And, you know, came up here.

Riggins: Did you interview?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, rather small department. At that time, it was quite small, and, yeah, it was on the coast. I was able to live at Wrightsville Beach for my first couple of years, as was pretty commonplace back then for new faculty, particularly unmarried faculty. But not only. I think there was a lot of faculty members who had come here, who would spend that first year or two on the beach, and then, you know, buy a house someplace else because the beach was, even then, comparably was more expensive. Now, of course, it's more, outrageously more expensive.

Riggins: So you would rent on the beach there?

Richard Dixon: Yeah. In fact, I had nine month rentals, you know, in places that would rent by the week during the summertime, which was okay. You know, I took off in the summers and did something else, you know. And, I mean, that worked out pretty well for the time.

Riggins: Were they looking for a demographer at that point?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, they were looking for somebody to teach the one course that we had and have still as a population course. It's a social demography course, and they wanted someone teach with a specialization in methodology, as well. Research methodology. And, of course, you know, the teaching of introductory level courses, as well. So that was the job description, as I best remember it.

Riggins: Right, right. And who was the Chair when you came in?

Richard Dixon: The Chair at that time was the first Chairperson, John Scalph [ph?] was his name, and he had been Chair for a handful of years. I'm not sure how many years, and he was the Chairperson for that year, and the next year, and then, you know, it rotated to other people over the following years. John died about, I don't know, it's been a while now. Seven, eight years ago. I'm not sure. It's been, you know, upwards of a decade ago. He worked here until he was 65, because his wife was a school teacher, and as it turned out, she was able to retire with full benefits, retirement pension at exactly when he was 65, so he decided to stay until 65. And I think they had great plans, but he would live for another, about three years or so, after that, and died of congestive heart failure when he was 68, I think. Something like that.

Riggins: Yeah. Yeah. So he was the Chair when you were hired. And it was the Department of Sociology and Anthropology? Or Sociology? Do you remember?

Richard Dixon: You know, we've gone through many changes, and I think, you know, I'm thinking it was called the Department of Sociology at that time, because there were a couple of people who taught some courses in criminal justice, two or three people who taught courses in anthropology, and one or, I guess a couple people-- a couple people, who taught courses in social work. But then, as the university grew, all the programs within the department grew-- well, all of those areas, tracks as we would call them then, grew into programs, and there were some name changes reflecting the fact that we had those, you know, full programs. You could major in those other fields, as well as sociology, and of course as the university continued to grow-- well, the first to break away to its own department was social work, and then a few years ago anthropology became a department on its own, and so now it's the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and, you know, it wouldn't surprise me if a few years into the future there's a final break so that there is Sociology only, and then courses dealing with jail, but, I mean, that's happened again and again and in other departments on campus, you know, over the years.

Riggins: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, they separate and they come together again, and separate.

Richard Dixon: (laughs) Yeah. Well, I don't know how often they come back together again. Usually when they separate, they stay that way. But I mean, that's happened around campus in a lot of areas, you know.

Riggins: You're right. Yeah, it reflects most of the changes. Well, when you came to the university in 1976, it seems like there were a lot of people that came right around then. I've interviewed a number of people at the College of Arts and Sciences, and I'm sure the other schools as well, but I think in the College of Arts and Sciences it was just a huge growth. Sylvia Polgar, I interviewed her in Social Arts. She came in '76.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, she in fact-- Sylvia and Gary Falkner, who's still in my department-- I think he's about to go on phased retirement, and Jim Sabella...

Riggins: I'm going to interview him in a couple weeks.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, Jim and I went on phas-- we're doing it exactly the same way at the same time, and then the fourth person, Dale McCall, another anthropologist, the four of us all came the same year into that department.

Riggins: Oh, wow. Okay.

Richard Dixon: '76. M'hmm.

Riggins: And Gary Falkner. So is Dale McCall, are there any signs of him retiring? Or...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, I think he's going to go on phased retirement this year, or next year. I mean, he's been thinking about it for several years, and I think he's going to do it this time. So if he goes on phased beginning next year, and Gary Falkner does as well, then the four of us who came in together will all be either out of here or on phased, so that might be part of the reason why you're finding, you know, you're finding so many that seem to have come at that time. It is the case that there was quite a hiring frenzy that went on, but, you know, the growth of the university has been very controlled growth by (inaudible) general administration, and keeping a lid on it, and in some, you know, bad budget years for the State of North Carolina, we really haven't been allowed to grow hardly at all. So the point I'm coming to is that probably, probably what appeared to have been a hiring frenzy was not so much of one, but rather one that showed, you know, the growth that more or less has continued at a fairly even pace. To this point, you know, and it continues, I guess it's mandated to continue over the next however many years.

Riggins: Well, did the hiring keep up with the students?

Richard Dixon: No. (laughs) It never does. No.

Riggins: I just ask the questions.

Richard Dixon: No, I mean, that's, you know, everybody can say that. I guess, you know, at least in public higher education; maybe private higher education, too, I don't know. But, yeah, we sort of always behind a little bit, you know. We were always kind of stretched in terms of enrolments, class sizes, and building space and so on. You know, it just seems that whatever you look at, there ought to be more to handle the load than there is, but, you know, I don't think there's at all unique about UNCW in that regard. You know, I've gotten quite interested in technology in higher ed., and we're probably coming to that.

Riggins: Yes.

Richard Dixon: But I remember saying at one time not very many years ago that the recommended number of technicians, computer technicians, internet, you know, micro technicians per, you know, employee or number of employees in higher education, and very much to include UNCW, was far below what's recommended in the business world. You know, and I don't think that the demands upon technical services are appreciably greater or any greater, and maybe not even as great in the business world as they are here. So I mean, we just always had that situation.

Riggins: What about UNCW with regard to our peer institutions in the university system. I mean, I've heard things about-- well, we all are hearing about how we've been historically under-funded, was that due to the growth that our college experienced vis-a-vis what we could get to support that, you know, compared to the other universities? Or were they all growing at the same rates?

Richard Dixon: No, they weren't all growing at the same rates. We have tended to always be among the top few, top two, three, something like that, in terms of growth year to year to year. And I really can't answer your question as far as, you know, why we have historically been under-funded. As you know, we got a pretty good chunk of parity money here just, what, a couple, three years ago.

Riggins: It was strange to get some extra money, but we got some. And this year, too.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, and I don't know how that gets out of whack. What I suspect is that when it gets out of whack, it's going to stay that way pretty much until somebody who works the numbers at the affected institution, you know, calls very public attention to it, public being, you know, in front of the Board of Governors, saying, "Here are the data. Can you explain and defend why we're being short changed?" I mean, that's how it happened here a number of years ago, and I think I'm correct about this that our then Provost Marvin Moss, you know, presented this, you know, these rather stark differences, you know, and that led to that extra significant, you know, slug of money, and, you know, I would not be at all surprised if we're still being under-funded here compared, you know-- I'm out of touch with those numbers. You know, it only depresses me when I look at them, whenever I have looked at them anyways, but it would not surprise me. You know, we've always had this kind of tension anyway among the schools fighting generally, fighting for scarce resources, and especially the fact that Chapel Hill and NC State have always kind of bridled at the idea of being, you know, thrown into the same pool as the rest of us. So, I mean, you know, it just gets into a realm that I don't have any, you know, deep understanding about.

Riggins: Right, right. You can still reflect on it.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, well, you've got my reflection. That's as much as I can say with any, you know, sense of what I'm talking about.

Riggins: Did you serve on the Faculty Senate over the years?

Richard Dixon: Well, on the Faculty Senate, yeah. I thought you were going to say the Faculty Assembly. No, I've never been on that. And I don't think that historically the Faculty Assembly has had much clout. Now, I've heard just very recently that our current President's Assistant President is more receptive to faculty input from, you know, especially through that organization, that representation, but I also suspect that given he's so new on the job that we haven't seen what that's going to amount to yet. I mean, it's a big system, and there is limited money, and, you know, higher education is political, just as other things are. So how well you can politic, I guess, and who you're connected with matters here, too.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, that's certainly the case. Since we brought that up, the Faculty Senate, when were you on the Senate, and how did you like that?

Richard Dixon: Oh, a long time ago. Well more than 20 years ago.

Riggins: Oh, okay.

Richard Dixon: You know, within my department I was not the first-- among the first-- but I was not long after that at putting in a couple years on the Senate, and well, I mean, I didn't care for it much. I'm just, I'm not interested. I mean, you know, I'm interested in those issues typically, but I've always been quite content to let somebody else...

Riggins: Take care of that stuff?

Richard Dixon: (laughs) Yeah. Yeah. And over the years, you know, I think that it has mattered. I don't know if it's mattered enough in terms of the decisions that have been made, but I mean, I just don't know. I mean, I can't speak with any real knowledge about that. I suspect that a considerable chunk of what happens doesn't even get determined really here at the institution, you know. That a lot of what's going to happen with the monies that are available are pretty much, you know, you don't have much wiggle room. You know, I mean, there's certain things you've got to do, and once you've done them there's not much left.

Riggins: Right, yeah.

Richard Dixon: So that in less you've got people who are extremely aggressive and skilled at it to get more than what would, you know, by whatever formulas that are used come this way, it's probably not going to happen. And I don't think we've had people like that very often. I think we've had administrators that have been bad and administrators that have been good and very good, but who have been good within, you know, within the domain that exists rather than working really hard to, you know, bust out of it, and get a bigger piece.

Riggins: Like you were saying how it's not guarantee that that would work, as aggressive as you are, it's still...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah. I mean, that enters a realm. I know, I mean, I've heard stories about, you know, chancellors that have played that or enacted that role at other institutions in the state at various times who have been really good at, you know, carving out much bigger chunks than would have come their way by the, you know, formulas, but I don't think we've really had that here. I don't think we have.

Riggins: Right. Yeah. Yeah, I guess that's a rare thing, or a personality that you don't always see. Well, when you first came, you said that this was a smaller city, and a smaller university.

Richard Dixon: Oh, yeah.

Riggins: What did you like about it? What were your initial impressions?

Richard Dixon: Well, you know, small size can make for, I think, more typically make for a kind of a cozier place with less of the kinds of things that we've just been talking about, you know, being necessary. As institutions grow, then I think you need more political skill to get what you want, you know. Something has been lost as the university has grown, but, you know, I think a lot of been gained, too. And the university and the community have both grown quite a bit and diversified quite a bit, and, I mean, there's just a lot more here now, and, you know, not all of it's good, but, you know, there's more there for everyone than there used to be. Let's put it that way. In terms of cultural series, and so forth here, well, in both places, and in fact the two are not unrelated to each other.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: I mean, the university has played a very big role in bringing things to Wilmington that, you know, that people would say are pluses. But in the process, well, I mean, you lose some of the informality. I mean, you lose some of the, I use the word coziness because I'm at a loss for another word at the moment, but, yeah, you lose some of that. But on the other hand, I mean, I could...

Riggins: Of knowing people. I mean, even people outside your department.

Richard Dixon: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah. I mean, you could fit all the faculty in one not terribly large room. You know, of probably roughly a 100 faculty members. Not even that. I think when I first came-- well, when I came here in the fall of '76, we had 2,900 full time equivalent students. And that, for some reason, I remember that, and now we're what? Nearing 12,500. You know, and so there's been a huge growth in every way, and there are people, you know, that I don't see, you know, from one year to the next who I used to see pretty regularly, you know. Other faculty members, for example. And that's just a matter of the size. The physical place here has grown, you know, many, many times over.

Riggins: Just to keep up with everything.

Richard Dixon: Well, I mean, especially the thing that I'm struck by more than anything else is the growth that's occurred in student services and the student options. I don't know if I can count anymore the number of student unions that in effect that we have. I mean, it's just amazing, and in particular, you know, when you compare what was there when you were an undergraduate yourself. I can remember we had an infirmary, and we did have a student union, but I don't remember much of anything else. But nowadays there's so many different kinds of organizations, and things that are available to students that were not there at all, or at least I was not aware of them, you know, that many years ago.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: I mean, it was the case that by, oh, about 1 o'clock in the afternoon here my first few years, you could get kind of lonely on this campus, and all the students cleared out because it was pretty overwhelmingly a commuter's campus at that time. I guess you could still say that it is, because the clear and substantial majority of our students do not live on campus, but nonetheless the sheer number of people who do now means that, you know, you find people and cars, and such on campus until, you know, well into the night. Whereas, I mean, it was just not like that then. I mean, just a very, very quiet place. You come here at night, you'd find hardly anybody around. A small number of classes being offered at night, and I taught night classes a lot of years, and, I mean, that's all you would see, you know. Essentially a lot of room in the parking lots, and not much of anything else going on, either. But now there's so much more, you know.

Riggins: (inaudible).

Richard Dixon: Yeah. So, you know, I like it better this way than that, but, you know, it comes with some price still. Yeah.

Riggins: Right. One thing I heard about was that faculty would have lunch together sometimes at Westside. I heard there was a separate dining area for faculty.

Richard Dixon: The first several years, maybe the first, I don't know how many years, half a dozen or maybe more than that, the dining hall actually was the second floor or the top floor of Westside Hall, and that ended with Wagoner Hall.

Riggins: Yes.

Richard Dixon: And, I mean, that was just such a much bigger facility and all. You know, I think some faculty members would-- I went there a few times, and just that, just a few times. Went to the Union, you know, where I think some faculty members still get together. I don't any longer, but, you know, you could just about see, you know, the bulk of the faculty head over those few years would go over there to Westside to have lunch. And, you know, I don't think that happens much anymore.

Riggins: No.

Richard Dixon: No, a small contingent, but most people don't.

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: Most people, like me, have lunch in my office.

Riggins: Yeah, that's right, but back then it was almost everybody.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Riggins: Jim Megivern, he came in '76, I believe.

Richard Dixon: Jim Megivern? Oh, no. He was already here when I came.

Riggins: That's right. He came in more like '72, I think.

Richard Dixon: That sounds probably about right.

Riggins: Alright.

Richard Dixon: He was the president of the faculty that first year that I was here. I think that's what the job was called, and I remember because I was a survey researcher. I did a lot of that over a lot of years, and they asked me to compose and collect data for a survey of the faculty towards the end of coming up with a Faculty Senate, and, you know, there were a number of questions that they wanted to ask in terms of its structure, more than anything else, but also, you know, some by-laws kinds of questions were in there, and so on. And then I don't remember whether it was my second year-- more likely by the third year that I was here, something like that, the first Faculty Senate meetings began to occur, you know, people were appointed from every department depending upon department size, and so on. And as I recall, that was also about the time that the business school broke away. It was a department. Arts and Sciences was everything. That was it. You know, and the business school broke away, and the nursing school I don't think very long after that, and then education as well. But it was, I mean, we were just a small enough place so that everything was under one Dean. Dan Plyler was the Dean of everything, and then Norm Kaylor became the Dean of the business school my second, third, forth, something like that year. In the later '70s anyway.

Riggins: Yeah, so, it was much more edified and easier to know...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, I mean, it was just a much smaller operation. You know, smaller, quieter, and I think the expectations were less rigorous, too, in terms of research certainly. I don't think in terms, you know, of teaching. I think those were always high. I mean, you know, we were touted as being a teaching institution, and that rhetoric anyway continued for a very long time, and it's probably been only within the last, you know, well within the last decade that you've stopped hearing that anymore. You know, you don't hear that anymore now, so we have become by now, I think, all of the, I'll call it pretense, has been removed, that we are other than the sort of place where if you want to keep your job, you know, you need to crank out, you know, publications and presentations, and, you know, the research component has been admitted to. How do you say it? (laughs)

Riggins: Well, it was pushed. When you got here it wasn't. When you first got here was it, you know, that...

Richard Dixon: Well, you didn't need much to hold your job, or to hang onto your job. And people did the very bare minimum by, you know, any realistic measure. If they were doing a good job, a respectable job of teaching, and a little bit of, you know, service, it never mattered, you know, terribly much. But the research expectation was a lot smaller than it has become, or it has long since become, really, you know.

Riggins: Yeah.

Richard Dixon: So, you know, and with that, you know, the pressures that go along with that, you know, mean that the job is what would you say? Less of a relaxed pace. Now you have to be concerned about it, you know, if you want to hang onto your job or get your final promotions and merit, and money, what little there has every been. I mean, you have to produce, and the first number of years, I mean, that wasn't very much a part of the picture. Now it's very much a part of the picture, and it has been, you know, of importance, and I think of substantial importance now for quite a while. You know, 15, 20 or more years now.

Riggins: Well, no university can become great just being a teaching college, right? Or is that hard to hear?

Richard Dixon: Well, I don't know. I think I would tend to agree with that. I'm not sure that everybody would, but I think I would tend to agree that. I mean, you get-- the reputation of an institution rests in I think, a significant part on, you know, what kinds of quality and how much quantity in terms of research is being produced by its faculty. The teaching aspect matters in terms of enrolments, you know. I think when parents are looking for places to send their children, the quality of teaching, you know, looms pretty large in their lives, and, you know, if we think if we by now, well, pretty long since by now, we have parents who are probably college educated people themselves, and are savvier about, you know, what kinds of things matter for their children. And, you know, I still think even so that the quality of their education, which means classroom instruction, classroom or even online-- we'll get to that, I guess-- but is still probably, you know, paramount, I think. You know, "Is my son or daughter going to ever see his or her instructor, and be able to talk to them outside of class?" You know, that's, I think, foremost even still.

Riggins: That's true. That's right.

Richard Dixon: But as far as reputation among, you know, other places of higher education, research matters. Research productivity really matters.

Riggins: So, that's certainly kept you busy over the years, with the teaching.

Richard Dixon: It did, yeah, and in fact I was very heavily involved in it through the '80's and, you know, into the early '90's. And then I began to really get seriously and heavily involved with, you know, technology and higher education. It was by the very beginning of the 1990's that we arrived at that point where, you know, microcomputers began to be serious tools, okay, in terms of their horsepower. And therefore the use of them for a number of things, thing that have now become commonplace, began to be taken seriously, and programmers began to write programs to do that stuff on microcomputers, and there was a whole shift to that level, and of course followed by, what middle '90's now? My memory of it is kind of fading now, but it seems to me that by the middle, or later middle 1990's is when the internet as we now know it-- I mean, the internet has been there for, you know, a generation and more, but the internet as we know it, began to really, you know, assume a much more central place in our operation. And I was, you know, one of, you know, that kind of core of people, you know, first smitten with it, and we had some good leadership. I was a follower, rather than a leader, I would say, but we had a few individuals, faculty members on this campus, who really came to the fore on this, and developed and, you know, diffused a lot of expertise in how to make use of it primarily for pedagogical purposes. So, you know, it was something that...

Riggins: Kind of interesting, yeah.

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: Who were some of the people who were like that?

Richard Dixon: Well, there's a name that you're going to hear again and again, that's always going to come up, I think, is Dick Ward, who is in the chemistry department, was a Chair of that department. He's done other things on campus, as well, but he really, you know, took the lead on this, and Gabrielle Lugo [ph?] and Matt also very heavily involved, and there were, you know, a couple of other individuals. Russ Herman also, and Matt, and Ron Veteran in computer science, and Jimmy Reeves over in chemistry, and there are a few others as well, but those people, and I think especially with Dick's leadership, really began to learn and then show the rest of us in a lot of ways. A lot of workshops, and just interest groups, and demonstrations and so on, but what you can do with, you know, the software that's just been released, and again that's happened again and again and again, and it's, you know, now there's a lot of stuff, and the university has acquired some of it, and it's become easier to use now, more user-friendly, and, you know, it has its own momentum, here, just like probably anywhere. You know, but we got the first leg up on this because of those people who aggressively pursued it, you know? Pretty much almost totally I would say as just, you know, personal interest and initiative, without much-- I can't say that we've gotten even yet very much academic leadership, you know, from the top here. I think that as that technology has shown itself to be useful, and affordable, and understandable, you know, you can teach people to then make use of it. I think people in our, you know, highest level in academic affairs have been supported at least to the extent that, "Okay, this is what you would like to do, you know, we're not going to punish you for it."

Riggins: Right.

Richard Dixon: And there have been times and circumstances when money has been forthcoming, when it's been available, and, you know, whatever success we can claim now has sort of come about that way. I mean it is the case-- I'll put another name in here, also Bob Tyndall, who was very instrumental, and I think insightful, and aggressive in a variety of ways to, you know, bring the technology, you know, I mean especially to include, not only to include, you know, wireless stuff, and classroom equipment for projection, and so forth. That all takes a lot of work and a lot of, you know, a lot of learning. I mean, when you try to do something 50 or 100 or several hundred times over, you know, to bring it here, to bring it there on a growing campus.

Riggins: All the equipment.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, and equipment that's constantly improving, and, you know, so much of it is like buying a car new and seeing it, you know, get devalued as soon as you drive it off the lot, because of newer stuff that has, you know, more features and, yeah.

Riggins: Another thing I've heard about, you know, from working in the library is the first, like our computer that we used here, they unpacked it and had Paul Roader [ph?] come over and show the librarians how to use it.

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: Yeah, Sue Cody has been very involved, and she's certainly isn't the only one here, and I think that both, you know, the current director, and his predecessor have been, you know, very amenable to it, and have encouraged it, and supported it. So, I mean, there have been a number of people in a number of different quarters who have had to come together on this. People on the more technological side, or the more administrative side of things have had to-- application services, and registration, and, you know, there have been a number of different offices that have had to come forward and show, you know, why you can't do this, or why, if you're going to do this, we're going to have to-- you know, there are a number of things that show the integration of so many things, and meanwhile out there, there have been pretty major developments in terms of, you know, software that will ultimately, you know, if all this stuff comes together as we're told it will, and we hope that it will, you know, it's pretty much of a turnkey operation where applications, registrations, monitoring student progress...

Riggins: All in one.

Richard Dixon: You know, you can go from one thing to another, and have it all work pretty seamlessly. It's never quite happened. It never quite happened that way, and every time we've had a change, there have been, you know, bumps, glitches, and wrinkles, but we've gotten through them, you know. I think we've made some mistakes, but I think generally, you know, the momentum is there, and largely, it's had to take place, I think, to the extent that I have any knowledge in this, it's had to take place at the institutional level. We haven't, I don't think, you know, as like an end user, I don't think we've gotten terribly much guidance from general administration. I think there's been a pretty much of a hands off attitude there. I mean, there is that, I can't think of the name, but the office teaching with technology or...

Riggins: The Center for Teaching Excellence?

Richard Dixon: No, this is the one at...

Riggins: Oh, you mean CTLT?

Richard Dixon: Yes, that's-- yes. Yeah, that exists, but I don't, you know, I think, I got the impression, mistaken as it might be, but I got the impression that at general administration there came to be the recognition we've got to do something here. That's what they did, and now, okay.

Riggins: Because it is a collaborative kind of non-profit organization that sort of up and runs everything.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, I mean, I think that there was this concern to not dictate to the separate campuses, or the faculty on those separate campuses, you know, the "Thou Shalts" because of concern about, you know, faculty resistance, maybe, or the expense, the sheer expense of doing it. You know, so there's been this kind of, "Well, you know, we'll pretty much let you make the decisions on your own," and I think that there's been a mixed bag, because I there have been some things...

Riggins: Do you know what? I'm going to change tapes so we can continue.

Richard Dixon: Okay.

Riggins: One moment, please. Thanks.

(tape change)

Riggins: We're back on October 31, 2006. This is Adina Riggins again with Dr. Richard Dixon continuing our interview about his time at UNCW, and the changes that you've observed and your work with technology and higher education and other things. Let's pick up again about what you're saying about the role of the university and with technology and higher education. You're saying that there seems to have been a concern from, perhaps, the general administration of 60 campuses not to tell us what to do, dictate to us what to do.

Richard Dixon: Well, I'm giving you my impression, which...

Riggins: Yeah, this is your impression.

Richard Dixon: But, yeah, I think that is the case. And I think that there may have been more than one concern, if I'm right. There might've been more than one concern, one being, as I mentioned moment ago, concern about resistance on campus. It's quite an investment of time and effort on the part of a faculty member to learn and incorporate this stuff into teaching, into course work. I think that the concern over resistance to that, to requiring people to learn and to use this or that, was there. I also think that, from general administration-- don't know what to, you know, a history of not knowing what to tell you to do.

Riggins: They're coming at it from the same perspective. They have to learn how to use...

Richard Dixon: Well, yeah, I mean, it's...

Riggins: ... It's their work.

Richard Dixon: I mean, it's been the case, I think, around the country and the world, that this is a new thing, what do we do with it, you know, is this a solution looking for a problem. You know, and you're not going to get much guidance or direction when you don't know h-- you know, where to point. So we've been, you know, feeling our way in the dark on this. You know, things have clarified themselves, you know, to a very considerable extent by now, terms of what you can do with the software that's there and all. It's going to continue to happen as we get more high-speed connections into people's homes s-- opening up more and more. There was a program, a Bill Moyers program, on Public Television just last week that I watched and learned about problems with the internet. And although the focus was not on what I'm about to mention, it was brought up that, in Japan, South Korea and Slovenia, and I'm forgetting one other place that was mentioned on the program, people are getting high speed, in other words, about half as fast speed at their homes through fiber optics for about the same price as what we're paying in the U.S. right now for DSL or copper wire cable connections. So about, you know, w-- you know, one megabit per second here versus 40 or 50 or 60, you know. So it was a whole new world, which technologically can be done. There are other reasons why it hasn't been done yet. But as that happens, I know it's going to, have no doubt about that, well, then it's going to open up yet more stuff, particularly with the use of video and with the use of real time interactivity using the internet. And, you know, where that's going to go and how much that's going to impact higher ed-- well, you know, what we do, in higher education, hasn't really defined itself yet. You know, I, you know, anybody who keeps up with this at all probably has some ideas. Some will be right. Some will be wrong. But we just don't know where it's going. So what it has amounted to is a lot of just sort of individual initiatives out of int-- personal interest maybe more than anything else supported or, at least, indulged to some extent, varying extents one institution to another. That's pretty much marked, you know, whatever progress we have seen. I don't think that very often you've seen very much leadership from the top. The University of Georgia system, I think it's an exception to that. I have some knowledge about where-- jumped into this right from the top. And they have-- they've developed a pretty system-wide, rather, you know, quite advanced effort to make use of this technology. But I think that's rather exceptional. So...

Riggins: What examples would that be? Would that be requiring a certain amount of video?

Richard Dixon: Well, no, that I don't know. But they have a university-wide, university and campus, you know, institution-wide, system-wide, referencing system for library use. And we're getting there. And they've-- system-wide, they've bought into WebCT in their case. So that-- there's been, like, standardization.

Riggins: It's all organized, instead of just...

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: ...whatever you can do.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, that's right. That's right. And I think that probably is a better way to have go on than what we have done. Although, in our case, what I w-- always wonder about is whether we would've been better off, in this university system, if our general administration had hired maybe some of their own programmers from maybe NC Sta-- well, from wherever to develop our own software, for a lot of the things that we do in, you know, in courses and administratively and, you know, for financial pur-- for whatever purposes, develop a system, get-- constantly seek and get input from the campuses or committees from the campuses or representatives from the campus, different campuses, to have our own UNC equivalent to Blackboard or WebCT or something like that, SCT for th-- I don't know whether it would have been a better way to go than what has happened or not. I don't know. I wonder about that. It would've been more tailored.

Riggins: Yeah, more control.

Richard Dixon: More control and maybe, maybe, by this point in time, less expensive, you know. We don't get these-- this software from these places for nothing.

Riggins: The library software, too.

Richard Dixon: It's very-- because, yeah, it's very expensive stuff. And I kind of wonder if it w-- might've been much more cost-ex-- effective to have some people with, you know, programming expertise and a interest and just pay them to develop this for UNC, you know, or not only UNC system, the 60-- what about the other 58 junior colleges that could've used it, too, and other state agencies that cou-- I just-- I think something big might've been lost there. I-- but I don-- I don't kn-- I've seen some of the numbers not even very recently regarding what we, in the past, this goes back at least a few years ago now, were paying annually to Eduprise, you know, the orga-- the business that we contract with for what we're doing.

Riggins: Which is online courseware?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, we're doing that, you know, not directly with WebCT but through Eduprise. And, you know, a pretty sizeable chunk of money if you add it all up to this point in time, because we've been doing this for w-- going on a decade now. I'm not sure. I think we're just shy of a decade that we actually, you know, signed the firs-- since we signed the first contract with them. We've paid out a lot of money, you know. I just had this lurking suspicion, I'll never know the answer, I don't know that there could be an answer to it, that had this been done, I mean, right up to system level and maybe even state level, you know, terms of all the public agencies and so forth that we've got for-- that use software that some of which we-- the equivalent to some of which we also use for administrative purposes here, if people had been hired and paid to develop it, if we might've come out far ahead of all the individuals payments for leasing this and leasing that, buying that.

Riggins: If you talk to people who are programmers, when they see what is being charged for software, especially folks I know who work in education or whatever, they say, "I'm in the wrong business. I could make some major money."

Richard Dixon: Well, I would add to that, I mean, what this-- we're going down a different avenue. I should stop, but I'll say one more thing on that regard. My wife is a retired school teacher. She retired in 2000. And I know, from her, that the educational system, in North Carolina, bought, you know, has purchased s-- p-- from a vendor, vendors, software for classroom management stuff and for other purposes. I jus...

Riggins: It's expensive.

Richard Dixon: You know, I'm just convinced, actually, without really knowing it, knowing any of the numbers, that we might've come out far ahead financially and with better stuff, more tailored stuff that could be more seamlessly t--

Riggins: The challenge, I guess, is finding the people who have the time and supervising them. I guess if they don't have time someone else has to hire them to do it. We supervise them to constantly tweak this.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, well, it does. But, if you paid them, they'd do it. Paid them well enough, you can find people who'd do it. And the question is would you still, you know, even if you've had to pay out a lot of money for that, would you still come out ahead. And I-- I'll always think so.

Riggins: We had an example with the digital library, iLumina. Are you familiar with that?

Richard Dixon: Uh-huh, yeah.

Riggins: They churned that out themselves. And now the library...

Richard Dixon: Yeah, I-- there, again, Dick Ward and Gabriel Lugo and Russ Herman and Sue and...

Riggins: Arlene.

Richard Dixon: ...Arlene Hanerfeld was-- has all-- yeah, I mean, they've done that n-- they got considerable amount of grant money to help them along in that. But that's the sort of initiative that I think...

Riggins: But they hired students, grad students.

Richard Dixon: I mean, yeah, that's just a lo-- you know...

Riggins: Tell me about the technology college. I suppose that was an initiative under Leutze. Is that correct?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, that's the-- that came into existence. That came into his mind, and he mandated it. At that time, very latter 1990s, when, you know, the internet and its potential and its possible threats, I guess you would have to factor into, in higher education c-- were creating quite a buzz, real concerns about getting left behind and, perhaps, losing enrollments, since online education...

Riggins: Go to college over the internet.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, now, a lot of that has gone by the wayside, as we know, the way things have played out, okay, those kinds of concerns anyway. But he came up with that idea at that time. And the idea was to have some kind of a program that would give interested students the chance to be put more at a more cutting edge place as this technol-- w-- kind of a rolling thing, you know. As technology develops, you would have opportunities for them to take courses, wherein whatever the latest stuff was-- that was being used would be included in those courses. And they would have to make use of it. The courses that ever got that designation got that designation because-- not because of course content or discipline or subject matter but, rather, because of the technology use demands placed upon students in those courses, okay? And the idea in sort of a theoretical sense was one that made some sense. However, I do-- you know, once he mandated it, he just sort of went off and did other things and didn't really look back at it, keep an eye on it.

Riggins: Chief executives are so often that way. They say, "Make it happen."

Richard Dixon: Well, that's...

Riggins: Little details.

Richard Dixon: In your words, yes. And I don't think anybody in academic affairs really had that much interest in it or was willing to really work on it much to make it happen. And first couple of years they sort of stumbled along.

Riggins: So were you the director of the technology college?

Richard Dixon: Not then. The first couple years Gabriel Lugo was, and he wasn't even given any budget at all to work with or any real support. He just got fed up with it and said, "Here," you know, "m-- I want out." And justifiably so. When Bob Tyndall came into his job heading up the ITSD, he wanted to get that going again. And I think it was larg-- well, maybe almost totally because of a vision that he had and how that could be sort of tied in with a number of the initiatives that he wanted to build into ITSD and a bridge between ITSD and academic affairs tha-- I mean, he pushed hard for it. And I was recruited, at that time, to come back into it. And-- but the problem was still there. Academic Affairs/Provost and the assistant that was charged with sort of-- the oversight person I had to report to didn't really have a feel for it or an interest in it. And it really languished for that reason-- this-- as I saw it. 'Cause I tried real hard to make it work. But organizationally it was a difficult thing. Because the whole process of getting faculty members to buy into the use of the technology, for one, and then apply for, get their, courses defined as technology college options in those courses, was put all upon me.

Riggins: And then the students would complete a certain number of these courses and get a certification?

Richard Dixon: Yes, something rather like getting a minor, if you will, but not in a single discipline. In other words, the number, I'm trying to remember now, think it was, like, 21 hours worth of technology college designated courses would give them a certificate that would go on their transcript. That's the only real reward they had. But I didn't get any-- enough money to have a lab on campus that had the latest stuff. I did initially. The firs-- when I first came into the job, there was a 12-station lab over in the geology building that I was given use of. But it was a shared facility. I never got enough money, after that, to update the equipment or keep up with the software. Software costs money when you want to put it on a number of stations. I think it is...

Riggins: Was that lab supposed to be for student use or faculty...

Richard Dixon: Yes.

Riggins: ...use or both?

Richard Dixon: It was for shared use by the technology college students, but also others could use it, which itself was kind of a unworkable thing. And eventually that lab was taken away from me. I mean, it was just-- the program was starved. The lab was taken away because, as I was told, they needed for a graduate program, in geology-- they needed to have office space, like cubicles, for their graduate students. That's one of the criteria in order to get accreditation for that program. Well, they took that away. They didn't give me something else to replace it with. So there wasn't a lab anymore. I mean, it just became an impossible thing.

Riggins: I know we have the documents from the SACS review in 2000. I know I've seen the report on the technology college.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, I proposed, you know, I had to submit annual reports. And right from the get-go, right from the first one, I mentioned to them, you know, "This-- for this thing to have any viability, it's go-- you got to get behind it. If you don't, you ought to just end the program." And I said that the first time, the second time. They did end the program eventually. And I don't know whether-- I don't even know if the reports I submitted were ever read. I mean, 'cause I was never called in to talk about them in my recommendations. I mean, nothing, never. So, I mean, it was just, you know, was clearly something that, you know, they didn't want to deal with, which was too bad. One of the things I suggested to them, which I still think might've worked, you know, recognizing that it probably wouldn't support, you know, a l-- a up-to-date lab p-- which means a space where-- and equipment and software in it for a program that small alone. But why not have a room designated for the technology college students and for honors program students, there are a lot more of those, and for training technology, training for faculty th-- which could also bring in students with the expertise, computer science majors, let us say, who could get credit for actually providing instruction and assistance and so forth for faculty o-- faculty and/or honor students and/or technology college students to learn this stuff. Well, it never happened.

Riggins: That sounds like a good idea...

Richard Dixon: Well...

Riggins: ...especially at that time, now, too. Could be seen by the information technology minor, information science minor. But there is an interest and need for those fields, not just what students think they know from IM'ing all day.

Richard Dixon: Right, yeah. And now, I don't know how well it works with, you know, the-- I suspect it works pretty well, that particular minor. And, of course, you got the computer science major. However, that's kind of a different group of people, students. These are people who are, you know, with enough expertise, at least, to minor in it if not major in it. What about other-- that other category of students who want not to go that far with it but, rather, want to have skills that are beyond, you know, the, shall I say, the momentum of technology and people buying computers, cell phones and such anyway, MP3 players w-- you know. Something, you know, in other words, a category of students, between those levels, who could then say, "All right," you know, "I'm not a programmer," you know, "And I don't have that level expertise," going to an employer, let us say, "But here are things that I can do that another BA or BS graduate probably can't do." You know, I think there is that category that's not being served to this day, you know. But it's-- that's the history of what happened there. And, you know, once again...

Riggins: Did you talk to students who had gone through the program?

Richard Dixon: Well, you know, yeah. And not very many did. Very few did. Because there was not really any encouragement for faculty to go through the process of getting their courses, technology college designated courses.

Riggins: It's an extra thing to do.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah.

Riggins: It could've brought in students.

Richard Dixon: Could've brought in students. Had those faculties gotten recognition for taking the time and the effort to develop those courses, in those technological ways-- if they'd gotten support and reward for it there-- there are lot of little pieces to this is what I'm saying. And all of them had to be addressed. To my knowledge, as kind of a case in point, there was a time when I served on a committee. I don't ever remember what the purpose of this committee was anymore. It was part of a bigger w-- one subcommittee of a bigger process. I don't think it was for reaccreditation though. But anyway, we're charged with the task of coming up with recommendations regarding promotion and tenure and s-- more specifically, recognition of and-- support and reward of technology, learning and using technology towards that end. You know, we spent couple months drafting this thing. And it went to, you know, that place where a lot of reports go. I never heard anything about it since then. I don't know if anybody who was supposed to be a recipient of that ever read it. And to this day, I don't think you'd find any language whatsoever in the current promotion tenure reappointment criteria where there's any mention about technological skill developments.

Riggins: No, I don't think so.

Richard Dixon: I don't think there is.

Riggins: It's sort of Grassroots C like it's always been, you know. You'll just learn it. And you'll learn what you need to learn, do what you need to do. But that means different things for different people.

Richard Dixon: I mean, the, course, the net result on that is, for most people, unless they're just personally interested, it's like why do this if I not only am not going to be supported or rewarded but, in effect, it'll amount to a punishment if it means I put my time here rather than publishing something which would get me promoted or tenured or reappointed. So that's-- we-- that's where we still are with, in terms of-- now, that does not square up with what we say in the university's mission statement. I was on the steering committee for the reappointment effort by the university the time before the last time. So I spent a lo-- we, you know, we spent m-- a lot of time working on that thing. So when the last, the most recent rec-- accreditation effort came up and were, you know, requests went out for faculty members to state what committees they would like to work on, I decide I'm going to sign up for the mission statement committee because their work is going to be over with pretty fast, you know, early in the process. And all of that effort I put in the time, before that, I didn't want to work that hard. So, you know, I was assigned to that committee. And, you know, we worked up something and-- which incidentally got greatly modified once it left our hands. But the point is that if you were to look at that mission statement, which is what we're supposed to be all about here, everything we do is supposed to feed back into the very carefully chosen words in that couple of paragraphs w-- in the mission statement, you'll find that, you know, the idea of technological-- staying on top of technology and making use of it-- I can't remember the phrase but it's in there. That's the only place th-- it might be in as far as I know. I mean, I don't read those kinds of documents. So I can't say that with any great confidence. But I don't think you'll find support and reward of technological, you know, development of faculty, development of such expertise and employment of such expertise. I don't think you'll find it anywhere still.

Riggins: It's almost like it's expected, but what's expected is unclear. And, also, again, the reward is very unclear...

Richard Dixon: And I can tell you that, in terms of, like, online courses, I've played significant roles in that. I mean, I headed up the development of online courses, two rounds worth, when we, you know, we-- when we did it that way, two years worth. I directed that. And I can tell you that then and even before then considerable efforts were made to come up with standards and expectations. And the then director, Patti Teresi, of the Center for Teaching Excellence was pretty heavily involved in that, too. And we came up with criteria, you know, with standards for that stuff. And that-- I don't know where that went. I don't think you will find anywhere in official literacy documentation what the expectation is of somebody who is teaching an online course, you know, what minimally must be there to be acknowledged as a valid online course. I don't think you'll find-- normally, though, I think you'll find anything wr-- you know, in print, you know, in official capacity or peach-- for people who are teaching what we call technologically enhanced courses. The university does permit-- I don't know you can say it encourages it. But out of academic affairs, it is permitted to teach no-- technologically enhanced courses wherein you don't have to meet your classes regularly. You could pretty much determine, once a week, once a month or as needed. As you-- the instructed-- instructor thinks th-- you know, ought to happen. That's quite permissible. People are not, you know, are not cheating on their course loads by doing that. But the idea behind that, and I think it's still an idea only, is that, in those courses, you know, what is not happening in a classroom should be happening online. But I don't think that there's any process of policing that or monitoring that that is taking place. That's a problem as I see it, you know. I think that...

Riggins: Have you taught any online courses?

Richard Dixon: Oh, yeah, all...

Riggins: Are you teaching one now?

Richard Dixon: All of my courses, right now, are online, yeah.

Riggins: The students are from all over?

Richard Dixon: No, they're not. Most of those students are right here, our own students, living on or near campus. So online as-- and we're typical. There's nothing exceptional about UNCW in that regard s-- the whole idea of what used to be routi-- and I guess still is, more often than not, referred to as distance education really is not very distant. It's much more a matter of convenience or even necessity. There are some people who couldn't take the course if it were not offered online because of, you know, child rearing, job, whatever have you, living circumstances, at that time. But a lot of them are just our regular undergraduates who are taking it for the convenience of doing so. And that's s-- it's a good thing. But I think often times it's, in the minds of some, it's still viewed as a bad thing. That's a whole other subject I don't guess I want to spend much time on. But there's still a fight that is going on among people who have become convinced that you can get as much out of a course, maybe more, by doing it online as in a classroom, are still fighting, you know, skepticism, resistance in certain quarters over that. And if we had clearly stated and monitored policies for criteria for what minimally has got to happen in those courses, if you're not going to meet your classes, this is what you've got to do minimally, then, I think, some of that skepticism would go away. And I suspect that, among the people, most people who are teaching online courses, they're working as hard or harder in those courses.

Riggins: There's no extra...

Richard Dixon: No, there isn't, no.

Riggins: ...benefit or incentive to teach online.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, so, I mean, f- f-- I think it's still regarded as kind of a kiss of death for tenured people, because they do take up so much time and effort not only to d-- to t-- compose the courses but all the time that has to be spent, you know, in interacting with students and grading submissions and, you know, otherwise communicating with them and so on. There's a lot there that happens. But, you know, ten years from now, who knows where we're going to be. Maybe all this will sort itself out. I really don't know. But thus far, I'm kind s-- kind of disappointed that some genuine, sincere efforts have been made by more than a handful. I mean, a number of faculty members right on this campus have not, you know, they're just not doing anything, except-- they're collecting dust right now, because they just have not been attended to. And what I guess our administration is counting on is that people will-- faculty members will try to do a good job in those courses. And they're probably right about that, you know. I think most people that take this on are not-- 'cause you could be slack here just as you, I mean, you could be slack in other cour-- there's no guarantee that a course that is taught in a classroom is any better or is the standard to follow either. But I think most people who pursue higher education as a profession are, you know, committed s-- you know, they police themselves.

Riggins: In your phase retirement, have you been doing a lot, then, of the online courses?

Richard Dixon: Yes.

Riggins: Almost exclusively?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and, in a way, you know, with technology you-- if you're into the technology, you retire too early. Because we're going to get b-- I've seen demonstrations of the new-- the Vista version of WebCT. And it takes care a lot of the complaints that I've got about the current version of it. I've already mentioned earlier, in other context, the fact that we're going to see a lot higher speed connectivity, for everybody, I think, at affordable monthly at-home, you know, costs. And that's going to enable a lot more real time interactive conferencing, the equivalent of classes held online if you wanted to go tha-- I think that's going to become a possibility, when people-- when we get people connected fast enough to do it, and the use of-- much greater use of video and video modules in which you incorporate it to your courses the-- you go right straight to the individual who wrote the book or who proposed the theory or, you know, resolved the-- there's going to be so much more th-- possible.

Riggins: More interactive...

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: ...with students asking questions.

Richard Dixon: And on your side, the library side, you know, the whole idea of putting everyth-- you know, all books on, you know, digitizing everything, you know. And, you know, what-- once we get through all the copyright and other kinds of hurdles-- and there-- they'll happen. I'm convinced they'll happen. I mean, you can acquire, archive, whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, download it, you know, at a fer-- perfectly acceptable speed, however big the value might be. All these things are-- they're inching their way together. Course, the development of more horsepower in, well, what are now this little MP3, iPod, that stuff is going to get better, you know. So that-- a lot more instruction and education on the fly, on the go, wherever you are, is, I mean, that's all coming, you know. I mean, we've got metropolitan-wide initiatives going on in a lot of places right now. I know that there-- the city council down in Atlanta is looking into costs and issues involved in just providing wireless connectivity, you know, just metropolitan area-wide, down there. Doing the same thing in San Francis-- I'm sure a lot of places. So there are a lot of things that are happening that are just going to change the face of all this stuff. But coming back, you know, full circle now to a person who is an instructor and who wants to deliver a course that is of the best quality that time and personal competence allows, you know, I mean, it's t-- the use of the technology is important but in ways that make the most sense is also all important. And that happens best if you've got the rewards and the support to do it from your superiors, the people who promote you and pay you and all and who provide you with the expertise that you don't necessarily have but need in order to build this or that feature into something that is useful and pedagogically sound thing to do, as far as the learning experience that your student at the other end of it is going to have. That's the short of all that.

Riggins: This is just such a good topic. And I can see this happening more and more as I interview people. They'll be reflecting on things like online courses. But for you, it's just been such a focus of your study and your reflection. This has been really helpful. I know I interviewed Eleanor Wright. When she was in phase, she taught a lot of online courses. She was real excited about that.

Richard Dixon: She was one among us time and time again, actually, yeah.

Riggins: Who was teaching it from the early...

Richard Dixon: Oh, yeah, put a lot into it.

Riggins: Do you remember Joanna Wright...

Richard Dixon: Sure.

Riggins: ...From the library?

Richard Dixon: Yes.

Riggins: I interviewed her. She's in Raleigh now. But she was involved with technology.

Richard Dixon: Well, she started this one-- I...

Riggins: ISP?

Richard Dixon: ...ISP. And I think she ultimately sold it to...

Riggins: ...to a company that eventually was bought by EarthLink.

Richard Dixon: Is that right? Yeah.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah.

Richard Dixon: Uh-huh. So I don't know what Joanna-- whether she's keeping an interest in this now or not. But that was quite a step for her to take, you know. Because that was kind of risky business, at that time, to, you know, leave a job, which, I think, she liked here, you know, and was quite good at, to-- and, you know, to step off into something-- very new territory at that time. The future-- the viability of that was really, you know, j--

Riggins: It's also kind of vision she had. Around '95, I think, she started that.

Richard Dixon: Sounds about right, yeah, yeah.

Riggins: Now she's working for a company that expands internet service to rural areas. It's a private nonprofit, I think. So she's still working, in some ways, with the state. But, yeah, she's a great person. And I know they set up that distance education classroom. Is that still used, the distance education classroom in the library?

Richard Dixon: Well, there was-- they had-- yeah, they had space here for it. But they-- the-- Westside is where the-- I think they had a bigger setup that was used more often. And that-- I don't know. I tried that one semester. And it was a disaster, frankly, and for s-- for several reasons. The equipment was not that good or reliable. The-- and the particular subject matter was not very amenable at all to that equipment, what they had available then.

Riggins: Was that video linking different students at different campuses?

Richard Dixon: Two different places, here and up in Jacksonville. And it just-- I didn't go for it. It-- I think that the internet really is the answer. And, you know, when the speed comes into play, I think you can do those kinds of linkups, you know, right to every individual, you know, sitting in front of their computer with their own little camera so that you see their face and they see yours on their monitor, you know. And you could have a whole, you know, matrix of four or five rows of, you know, up to maybe 20, 30 different individuals. I think it could be possible to have your conference right there, real time, you know, which is, you know, and I would imagine you could set it up so that the instructor could then, you know, flash them over to the equivalent of a whiteboard, you know, just control the whole process. Well, you know, it's-- technology is-- it just, you know, it's there, actually. I don't think there's much yet to be invented or discovered to make all that work. I think most of it is already there. It's just you got to get the speed out to people who would be making use of it.

Riggins: Getting the infrastructure built and making...

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: ...people sell it at an affordable rate?

Richard Dixon: Well, yeah, that too, that too, yeah.

Riggins: Have you liked the phase retirement?

Richard Dixon: I have, yeah. I was not going to do it when I was getting within a few years of stopping full-time work. But then I talked to some people who had gone through it altogether or were in the midst of it. And they said, "You know, it's a pretty good deal. You may want to rethink that." Because, I m-- they were enjoying it. And I have. It's-- I think it's-- the intention of it, I guess, was to ease people into retirement. I think-- one of the purposes why that program came into being, rather than throwing s-- people-- throwing people out there from full-time to no time. And it's worked well. Each of the last two spring semesters and summers I-- last year and the year before, as I'm doing now, I taught full-time in the fall, took spring, summer off and went on and did other things but, you know, maintained a connection here, still had an office, still had a computer, could still be involved, you know, if and when and how I might have wanted to as we've gone along here. So that's-- yeah, I think it was a good deal. I don't really know yet. I h-- I'm not close enough to the end of it all, till next June, end of next year, to know, you know, what my rights and privileges will be as a retiree, a full retiree, from here. So some of the things that I might want to do, might already be able to do-- I haven't really inquired yet. But I know I saw a survey that was circulated by a person going through phase retirement.

Riggins: In business school?

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: John Anderson?

Richard Dixon: Yes, John Anderson. And...

Riggins: I interviewed him. He's a very funny guy.

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: Very dry sense of humor, I'll tell you.

Richard Dixon: Well, he-- I remember seeing a number of things that were mentioned, in effect, would you like to have this available to you, would you like to have that available. I thought hum. Some of the stuff, you know, I hadn't really thought of before. But as a full retiree, I might like to take advantage of some of these things. So we'll see what happens.

Riggins: You answered the survey?

Richard Dixon: Yes, yeah.

Riggins: One thing he did say was interesting is things like free tickets to sports events. Majority didn't say that, but tickets to cultural events.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah, I mean, there are things just to maintain the connection to the university and what goes on here, particularly the cultural kinds of stuff, you know. Being able to participate in those would matter to me.

Riggins: What are your plans for retirement? Are you done with sociology?

Richard Dixon: I don't know. And I almost deliberately have not really thought about that. I'm just going to-- I'm going to s-- there are couple of areas. One of which is the technology stuff, you know, and incorporating that. And, you know, I've entertained, upon occasion, the thought of maybe c-- either trying to write or pairing up with somebody who has written a, say, intro level text and making-- incorporating a lot of the technological stuff into it as a package and just directly marketing that to instructors, other words, cutting out the publisher is really the short of it, you know, and maybe making it available to students, the text of it avail-- as well as the software, available to them just online so they could do all of that in that way. That's one thought that I-- I've had, because textbooks have gotten to be so expensive. I don't know that they've got to be, you know. I don't understand the publishing world that well, but I think if you cut out that chunk you might save everybody some money. So then that's one thought that I've had. I used to do a lot of survey, telephone-based survey, research. I did a lot of it for a period of years. And I've gotten kind of interested now in what the pro-- just methodological research on the viability, the accuracy, of internet-based survey research.

Riggins: Oh, right, all those internet surveys.

Richard Dixon: Yeah, and how tha-- yeah, you know, and w-- you know, whether or not the results that you would get would be as realistic as what we get from telephone research or person to person interview kind of research that is done and how it might even pair up with telephone research with acquiring a sizeable sample of individuals by phone or mail or however you get to them and maintaining what would be the equivalent of, like, a focus group w-- large, if you will, a large panel of individuals, numbering in the hundreds so that you would have, if it worked, you'd have narrow error margins on issues, attitudes and behaviors that you could survey people on by alerting them to participate, over the internet, and have them access the instrument online and submit it that way j-- I don't know how much of that has happened yet. I know that it's beginning to happen a little bit. But-- and I really haven't had the time yet to take a look at publications, journals, which focus upon the methodology, you know, of whether or not and how well, how accurate and what the p-- what the problems are of trying to gather-- doing-- of doing survey research online. So that's another area that I would, you know...

Riggins: Sounds like you certainly need access to your library on a database soon.

Richard Dixon: Well, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Richard Dixon: They'd have retired faculty to do these lit. reviews as well as...

Richard Dixon: Uh-huh. Course, you'd need to have someplace to park the-- both the instrument and the data that you collect through it. So-- and, of course, access to software, SPSS in my case, to crunch the numbers, that kind of thing, yeah. So I mean those are possible. I don't know if I'll do it. But I've given a little bit of thought to those things. But I think I might just want to be retired for a little while, go someplace.

Riggins: Travel?

Richard Dixon: Yeah, yeah, I think so.

Riggins: __________?

Richard Dixon: Yeah.

Riggins: I hope that we'll see you around in the library, that you'll continue to come by. And good luck for the rest of your semester. Any other closing thoughts?

Richard Dixon: No, you've worn me out.

Riggins: It's been great. Thank you for helping me out and telling me all you have done.

Richard Dixon: Thank you. You're welcome.

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