Q&A with exiting Forum Director Shane Cox


Q – Welcome. Thanks for taking the time to interview.

A – You are welcome. It is my pleasure.

Q – Let’s start off by talking about how you assumed the position of Director of Forum for the past three years.

A – It was actually a shot in the dark. Let’s go back to 2013 for a moment. I was a junior faculty member in my third year at the college. Up to that time, I had volunteered to serve in small capacities – both committees and recruiting. (Dean) Steve Griffith put out a call for faculty to step up as director of Forum. I put my name in the mix and was ultimately selected. I answered the call to assume this very challenging position.

I believe my selection came due to a true desire to serve in the position. I have a natural ability for promoting events and building excitement. If you look at the track record of attendance and buy-in to the Forum program over the past three years, I would say that my belief cannot be denied. Record consistent turnout, thought-provoking speakers, undeniable innovation, high-quality promotion and execution of events, I brought all of these qualities to the program.

Q – Who ran the program prior to your tenure?

A – That is the amazing thing; it had historically been run by senior faculty. (Professor) Brian Steffen served the program very well for six years. Prior to him it was (Professor) John Epperson. I believe (Professor) Jim Palmieri served for a brief time. You talk about nerves. There was tremendous pressure and a question of ability when I took over as a very junior faculty member. That is ultimately what drove me. I put pressure on myself to meet and surpass all expectations over the years.

Q – With you only in your third year, do you think you took on too much responsibility?

A – To those who tell you to go slow in taking on responsibility, I disagree. It is up to every single faculty member to serve the college. This machine does not run on its own. It is us who keep it going. I often hear, “I’m too busy already.” Take a look at my schedule. Let’s look at teaching and the numbers. Let’s look at advising and the numbers. Let’s look at service and the numbers. Let’s look at professional development and the numbers. The numbers do not lie. I am proud to say I am overloaded in each area.

I love to work. I love to exhaust myself. If you do not leave campus in the spring without feeling emotionally and mentally crushed, you have not given it your all in my opinion. It has been a challenge, though, maintaining my normal schedule and pulling off one of the greatest speaker programs in higher education.

Q – With the immense amount of responsibility you assumed, how did you stay motivated to produce such high-quality events?

A – I seek quality in all aspects of my job and in my life. I am never one to simply go through the motions. This is ultimately what drove me over the past three years in the position. I have an undying drive to be the best in what I do. I executed over 30 major events in both the First Wednesday as well as the Third Wednesday Small College | Big Questions series.

Let us take a look at what people see as far as events. Individuals will see some promotional material prior to an event. They may receive a personal call from me prior to the event encouraging their attendance. They come and listen for an hour and then go about their day. There are many things leading up to the event and after the event they do not see.

People do not witness the brainstorming in lining up speakers. Attendees do not get to see the actual processing of contracts and check requests. A great deal of effort goes into lining up the venue – including decorating the room and making sure IT has the technology needs met. I am talking countless hours of work, hard work, into ensuring a smooth and professional event.

After an event is over and the room is empty, it was always a fulfilling feeling knowing my events were a success and I gave it everything I had. I sought no credit. I sought no pats on the back. I did it for the program.

Q – Wow, that is quite a bit of responsibility for only one individual.

A – Yes, not to mention I had to monitor the entire Forum calendar to ensure there were no conflicting events. With art, theatre and opera, I am talking over a hundred events that I had to work around. I handled it like a professional. Flawless.

Q – How were the events over the years?

A – I can say we had one of the best speaker series that could be put on. Attendance at First Wednesday lectures often met the 300 mark. Our Small College | Big Questions series averaged 75 individuals per event. I can proudly say all events were executed professionally and without major issues. There is always room for improvement in every aspect of life.

Q – Do you think somebody else could have handled the responsibility at such a high level?

A – That will always be debatable. I was a third-year junior faculty member. I was working with senior faculty across campus that have very high expectations on performance. I established my own system and implemented it, including how to propose an event as well as funding levels. It was very nerve-wracking. However, I am one who rises to and embraces challenges. There comes a time in the life of everyone: you either step up to the challenge in front of you or succumb to fear and cower. I take on responsibilities with the intent of making things better, whatever the task.

Q – Who is taking Forum over? How are you preparing for the transition?

A – I am proud to say that (Professor) Dr. Derek Lyons has officially accepted the position beginning next year. I am so proud of his willingness to serve the college amidst all of his other responsibilities. I am diligently working to make sure he is fully prepared to begin work next year. There are some major changes that will be implemented in the position, for the better. He will be a success. I am sure he will find the best approach that works for him.

The incoming director must be himself and run the program how he thinks appropriate. I think it is unwise for anybody to try and mirror another faculty member. This applies not only to Forum, but to other areas such as teaching and advising. People can sense when somebody is not genuine; they can spot it from a mile away. People can see through those who are not passionate about what they are doing. I was both genuine and passionate as I am in every single thing that I do in my life. You must be yourself.

Q – Is there anything else you would like to add? How would you like your time as director to be remembered?

A – As people reflect on my performance over the past three years, I would hope they acknowledge I performed my duties in a distinguished and professional manner. Given the amount of responsibility I have in other areas of the College, I gave everything I had in this position.

I look back on the late Sunday evenings putting posters out and making robo-calls to faculty. I recall fondly the early Wednesday mornings picking up speakers and checking up on the venue set-up, putting out fires. I reminisce on the hours spent during the summer preparing the schedule for the upcoming year. I have no regrets; it was all worth it.

I did not do this for any other reason than to carry on a historic program. When I saw the smiles on faces of attendees, it made it worthwhile for me. When a room was so packed that we ran out of seats, it made it worthwhile for me. I met a lot of great individuals and worked with a number of wonderful colleagues who helped make the events possible. I thank each and every person who made my job a pleasure. As far as any negative moments, I have already forgotten them. Forget them.

I am proud to have served this part of Simpson history in the role of director of Simpson Forum.

I wish the program all the best.

Q – Thank you for the time.

A – You are welcome.