Del Dunn, UGA’s vice president for instruction, ends nearly 40 years at the university Dec. 1. He recently sat down with Columns to discuss what’s changed since he started, why he loves teaching and his plans for retirement.
Columns: You’ve been on campus almost 40 years. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your time here?
Dunn: In respect to accomplishments at a complex institution, it’s rare that you do anything by yourself. It involves a lot of teamwork, and I’m not sure I could take credit for a great deal myself. I think the department of political science and the new department of public administration and policy are better than they were when I came. I think the Institute of Higher Education, where I served as director for a year, has made great strides in the past few years. I was on the committee that wrote the proposal to create the School of Public and International Affairs. Earlier in my career I was director of the Institute of Government. I think that nine-year stint was one in which I learned a great deal.
I would say in the most immediate sense, I am very proud of the task force on general education and student learning. We had some very thoughtful faculty members and students who were members of the committee. We had a lot of input from faculty, students and advisers as we formulated the report. The report’s recommendations form an excellent road map for where we need to be going with undergraduate education in the 21st century. Overall, it probably will have more impact than any other single thing I’ve been involved in. I’ve also enjoyed working with the admissions committee on a statement on diversity that the University Council approved several years ago.
Columns: You taught for many years here. What do you love about teaching?
Dunn: I think being exposed to bright, enthusiastic students provides much satisfaction. I liked the challenge of developing an effective learning environment in which students could learn. It is also very gratifying to see your students graduate and become successful and accomplish much in their own right.
Columns: Was there a reason you decided to stay here so long?
Dunn: There was certainly a reason I came in the first place. There was much excitement in the air when I interviewed. The university seemed poised to become a much better institution. I thought this was a place that was going places and that it would be interesting and exciting to be a part of it. In large part I think that’s happened. When I came I thought I’d be here four or five years. I couldn’t imagine how long 40 years would be. But at that stage of life, four or five years seems like a long time.
Now why do you stay? You stay because you get treated well. You have stimulating colleagues, bright and enthusiastic students. I’ve also had a number of exciting responsibilities both as a faculty member involved in teaching and research and as an administrator in a number of areas. In my 40 years, about 22 have been as a full-time faculty member and another 18 were full-time administration. So alternating between full-time faculty and full-time administrative positions has worked well for me.
Columns: Is there any chance you’ll slow down in retirement?
Dunn: I think so. I’m very busy in this position, so I see this as a chance to slow down a bit. I’d like to see how that feels. I’d like to travel more. I’d also like to read more for enjoyment. I do have plans for a couple of small research projects. I think I’d like to teach at least one more time.
Columns: You’re not originally from Georgia. Do you plan to stay here when you retire?
Dunn: Definitely. This is home now. Athens is a much better place now than it was 40 years ago. You read in magazines about the 20 best places to retire, and Athens is almost always one of them. People are moving here from all over the country to retire. So it was a no-brainer for me. My wife likes it here. This is where my friends live. This is where my life has been for nearly 40 years. Why would I want to go anywhere else?