A long, hot summer on campus

More often than not, a college president's summer "vacation" consists of a slightly slower work pace -- maybe the luxury of leaving the office at 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., for example. It affords a chance to catch up on reading about trends in higher education (not often for the faint of heart).

Lunches with donors can extend into a second hour. If enrollment trends are positive for August, there are fewer sleepless nights in June and July.

Then there's this summer -- which to me is exceptionally hot, volatile, uncertain. The atomic particles in and around higher education seem as super-charged as those up in the clouds over my home on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Ocean View.

It's an election year, which has some impact on us in the college arena and usually breeds uncertainty. We look hopefully to the candidates for pronouncements about their commitment to education. The reality is that Washington tends to keep us off balance when it comes to government grants, work-study funding, student loans, and other programs. Stability is fleeting. We're always feeling vulnerable about how the shifting moods in the Capitol will affect students in the quad.

Meanwhile, the government churns on as an engine of increasing regulation. We're bracing for the Dec. 1 launch of the Fair Labor Standards Act rules on overtime, raising the salary threshold at which employees are considered exempt from overtime pay. At Virginia Wesleyan, we're still working through how those rules will affect us. I wish our fellow institutions, other not-for-profits, and area small businesses well in adjusting to this costly regulation.

As the Hampton Roads region continues to build its economy, smaller businesses and organizations need incentives to invest in infrastructure, hire employees, and increase production. The new overtime regulations don't help. And be reminded that the rules will be open to revision in another three years. I am not optimistic that the process will be favorable to colleges or our area's small businesses that contribute so much to the economic vitality of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and surrounding communities.

The violence in our country and around the world is making us feel insecure. On humid mornings much too often this summer, the flags outside my office have fluttered at half staff. For colleges, the challenge is multi-faceted. We must keep our campuses safe yet open to the social and intellectual commerce that contributes so much to our vibrancy.

Just as important is ensuring that our students are not desensitized, that they celebrate the diversity and freedom that the forces of hate or insanity seek to destroy, and that they embrace the perspective of history in learning from the tragedies of today.

My long, hot summer also drives home the disruption in our natural environment. Whatever the cause, global climate change is upon us. The students and faculty who will occupy the new Greer Environmental Sciences Center on our campus will have plenty to do in analyzing the causes and evaluating the outcomes of global climate change and, locally, the threat of rising sea levels.

As with so many of the urgent issues of the day, colleges and universities are expected increasingly to host discussions and propose solutions. I look forward to doing so in partnership with other institutions in our area.

One year into my post at Virginia Wesleyan, I've discovered how many good ideas exist in our region, along with the energy and resources to convert conceptualizing into action. May it find lucrative expression in economic development, environmental stewardship, and public policy discussion to benefit all of us in Coastal Virginia.

Perhaps the energy produced by this summer of anxiety will be converted into positive action, not a storm. (The college presidency, though, has taught me to be ready for anything.) In just a few weeks, it will be good to welcome the incoming and returning students, to help them unpack their mounds of belongings along with a renewed focus on learning.

It will be enjoyable as well to greet our faculty, many of whom keep in regular touch over the break. Come September, campus equilibrium will be restored; we will return to the business of teaching.

My long, hot summer will join the ranks of others in my experience: reflective, restorative, and, with some relief, concluded.

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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach. Previously, Dr. Miller served as President at Bethany College in West Virginia (2007-15), Wesley College in Delaware (1997-2007) and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee (1991-97).

He wrote this for the July 31 issue of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)