Beating the Summer (Dialogue) Slump

June 27, 2005

Hunt Dining Hall is closed. Pannill Student Center and the Pub are quiet, too. There are no large-scale college events. The Physical Activities Center is open for just an hour on selected days.

It’s summer at Mary Baldwin University, when some of those outside the college community think everyone flees campus for a sunny beach. But many people – including most staff, some faculty, and a few dozen students – are still in Staunton in June, July, and August. Despite the realization that many of the college’s gathering places are closed and events are infrequent, they find ways to stay connected and maintain relationships and communication beyond the school year.

Robert Richardson, director of security and a self-proclaimed “people person,” makes eating in the dining hall part of his daily routine during the academic year. In summer, he is glad to be one of the few people who are able to drop in on coworkers as part of his job “rounds.” To compensate for the lack of lunchtime conversations, he uses that duty to its fullest advantage.

“Between administrative duties and meetings, I try to get out and walk around campus,” Richardson said. “I’ll stop in for informal talks with people I need to keep up with. If I don’t know what people in other parts of the college are doing, it is difficult to do my job.”

Richardson believes that when students see faculty and staff socializing, they realize that Mary Baldwin employees are real people and that there is a professional camaraderie. Student confidence in the school is built by seeing people working together, he said.

Jeff Buller, Dean of the College and vice president for academic affairs, is another dining hall regular between September and May. He is on campus much of the time in the summer. One of the ways he stays in touch is at weekly meetings with members of the philosophy and religion department at a downtown coffee shop. They discuss books and, invariably, current events.

“I’m not perpetually running to meetings or classes in summer,” Buller said, “so, although I have fewer conversations, they are usually longer and more in-depth. I enjoy having the luxury of actually being able to get into a topic.”

Others stay in touch by exercising together, participating in summer theatre and arts, and working on community groups, but some people reminisce about when the Mary Baldwin campus was a more lively summer site.

Roderic Owen, professor of philosophy, admits that there are advantages and disadvantages to a quieter campus. He enjoyed the cultural immersion sessions, young women and science camps, and elder hostels that once occupied the college during the summer, but he also values having time to develop his courses, write and publish papers and books, attend workshops, and relax with his family.

Summer picnics and Friday gatherings at the Pub and Tyson Terrace were highlights for Crista Cabe, associate vice president for institutional advancement, for several years. Cabe was one of the founding members of the manager’s group – which still exists at Mary Baldwin – and helped organize fun- and food-filled events about every two weeks at the Pannill Center. After a while, the activity became so involved that it was discontinued in the 1990s.

Cabe does hope to revive what used to be a monthly practice of holding a departmental picnic during the summer. She is working on plans for one or two such gatherings this year.

“The value of sharing time together that is not work-related should never be underestimated,” Cabe said. “It often facilitates better relationships when you are dealing with professional matters.”

Richardson would like to re-energize inter-office communication by spending more time together. Getting gatherings started again at the Pub or Student Activities Center, forming a Mary Baldwin bowling league, and hosting card-playing parties on campus are some of the ideas he has tossed around. Even opening the dining hall on a semi-regular schedule during the summer would encourage employees to communicate, he said.

In the meantime, the Announcement Digest, sent via email every day (except when there are no announcements), keeps Mary Baldwin community members on and off campus informed.

Are you interested in the idea of organizing informal gatherings for faculty and staff, primarily during the summer? Do you have ideas about how Mary Baldwin faculty and staff can stay in touch – and get to know each other – during the summer and throughout the year? Please send your comments to