By Monica Chapman
During the course of the past six years, it hasn't been difficult to pin down Ann Fidler, dean of the university's Honors Tutorial College. Your best bet would be 35 Park Place, where her office is notoriously lit up well into the evenings. The next-best guess would be the bike path, where Fidler often can be found marathon training to the audio of NPR downloads on her trusty iPod. Now, one of those faithful whereabouts has changed.
On Tuesday, Fidler officially stepped into her new role as interim associate provost for strategic initiatives, a one-year appointment designed to ensure Ohio University continues its progress in implementing Vision OHIO and integrating with the University System of Ohio. It's a role that will draw on her experiences as a dean while presenting new challenges, but Fidler feels well-prepared to take on what lies ahead. She recently sat down with Outlook to reflect on her years with HTC and discuss her new role with the university.
How would you sum up your deanship with HTC?
It's been a fascinating and a very heartening experience for someone like me, who is a hopeless idealist. I learned during the course of being the dean of HTC that if you're willing to put the time and the attention into a culture of excellence, it can exist and it will thrive.
Because HTC doesn't have its own faculty, being the dean of HTC also brought me into contact with faculty members across the entire institution. I know firsthand of the talent, dedication and generosity of Ohio University faculty members, and I'm proud of and thankful to them.
Rumor has it that you know all 230 HTC students by name. Is the rumor true?
It's true. I made it my business. It's important that the dean of the Honors Tutorial College is always scanning the horizon for students, to find ways to enable them to do what they want to do. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't know the students, what they were doing and what they cared about.
Your strong work ethic is well-known among HTC students. What does a job of this magnitude require?
It pretty much was my life for the past six years.
What inspired that dedication?
That's easy to say. In HTC, we make promises to the students when we're recruiting them, and we have to fulfill those promises. These students have so many other choices. So if student is going to come to the HTC and turn down a scholarship to the University of Chicago, then it's my responsibility to make sure we provide what we promised. You can't do that working 8 to 5, five days a week.
At our recent graduation dinner, there were a number of parents who came up to me afterwards and said, "Everything that you told us would happen has happened." There's no greater satisfaction than hearing those words.
In your mind, what makes the HTC experience so unique?
The type of education that you get at the Honors Tutorial College is not available at any other institution. It is a tutorial education in which faculty deliver a significant part of the curriculum either one-on-one or in very small groups. Undergraduates in HTC have more interaction with and receive more attention from faculty than many graduate students.
Another special part of the education is the community that surrounds HTC. It has become a family of people who care about each other and about making a difference through academic work and through involvement on campus.
It's obvious that your students gained a great deal under your leadership. What have you gained?
It's given me tremendous opportunities to understand how a university works. Because we are so small, I had to learn, often the hard way, about things that I had little experience in. I managed the budget; I was the communications person; etc. It made me do things that stretched and challenged me, and in the process I had the chance to get to know many of the wonderful staff and administrators who do amazing things for students on a daily basis. I'm humbled by the work that these folks do behind the scenes and without fanfare.
If you had to pinpoint one accomplishment that you are most proud of during your time with HTC, what would it be?
That would be the creation of a very vibrant and very caring community of young scholars.
Prior to my tenure, I am told that HTC students rarely chose to walk with the Honors Tutorial College during graduation ceremonies. They preferred to walk with the colleges that hosted their programs of study. Over the years that I've been dean, this has steadily changed as the sense of community in HTC has grown stronger. This year, every HTC graduate who attended the ceremony walked with our college.
Once more students began to walk with HTC, more HTC directors of studies and tutors began to march with our college instead of with the faculty of their respective colleges. It was wonderful to be able to sit on the platform and see two of the key elements of the HTC community -- students and faculty -- coming together to celebrate the conclusion of years of hard work.
I provide this as an example of how the students have come to identify with the college. This is their home. This is their community. They are proud of being HTC students. When I started, that wasn't always the case. Over the course of these six years, Jan Hodson, Kathy White and I have worked together to create this community where people feel comfortable, valued and loved. And they want to give back to it as well.
How do they give back?
Many of the students that who graduated during my tenure are already giving back financially to the college. And it may only be $40, $50 or $100 per year, but their experience in HTC was such that they want to contribute whatever they can. And $40 from someone who is in graduate school and living on Top Ramen means a great deal to me.
Your students have described their relationship with you as twofold. On one hand, they say you are always in their corner, and on the other, they say you are constantly pushing them to reach for the sky. Can you explain your approach to mentoring?
Knowing a person and listening to them is key and so is being flexible. The last thing they need is for somebody to set the boundaries very tightly around them and tell them, "If I were you, I wouldn't go over there." By the time they get to the point where I'm giving them advice about graduate school or professional school, I know their capabilities and I know their passions. I also know, from the feedback that I receive from alumni, that the type of experience that you have as a result of a tutorial education really does prepare you for doing pretty much anything that you might want to do as you move on from Ohio University.
How did you know that it was time to move on?
I guess I began to think of the college as being my college. And it's not. It is a wonderful, amazing academic institution that is a trust and not a possession. We've come a long way in six years, and I think the groundwork has been laid well for a new dean with fresh ideas and an ability to make progress on fundraising. With the help of some exceptional faculty and a great staff, I've done what I set out to do.
I wanted to make a graceful exit, but it has been harder to do than I imagined. Reams of tissues have been consumed in the process.
Where will you go from here?
I want to continue to learn how to contribute to making the right things happen for faculty and students in a university environment. The interim associate provost position will allow me to do that.
Your new job responsibilities include helping Ohio University to align with the University System of Ohio. Why is this important to you?
It's one of the most critical things facing us as a university. We must maintain our identity and our mission as a university within the big, overarching structure that the state has created. On the one hand, we need to be supportive and genuinely work toward the goals of the USO. But on the other, we are unique in so many important ways, and we cannot let those things get lost or overshadowed. So it's going to be a balancing act, and my role, in large part, is to keep track of all of the details that occur over the course of the next year to make sure that we are always, always, always in the best possible position that we can be in vis-a-vis the USO.
Promotions in higher education often require relocation. This promotion allows you to stay at Ohio University. Was this a priority for you?
Definitely! I believe in what we're doing here, and I can't imagine having better colleagues anywhere else. I know the institution well by now and want to keep my shoulder to the wheel.