Most students can’t take a swing at an administrator and be commended for it. But most students are not in Rodney Johnson’s racquetball class.
Johnson, GW’s director of Freshman and Parent Services, teaches students in the basement of the Health and Wellness Center Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
“I would be exercising in (the Health and Wellness Center) even if I didn’t teach,” said Johnson, who has played since 1968 when the sport was called paddleball. “For me, teaching is a way to give back. I enjoy young people learning the game and seeing them improve.”
Johnson, who has worked at GW for 16 years, teaches classes every year. He recently had to cut back from four racquetball classes to one per semester because of bypass surgery a few years ago.
“It’s a great way to unwind after a stressful day, and a great year-round sport that anyone can learn,” Johnson said.
Johnson is one of 39 GW current administrators who has taught a class. Other administrator-professors include University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, various deans and associate deans and Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, who is teaching an education course this semester.
Administrator professors receive their regular salaries for their administrative positions and do not get additional compensation for teaching, said Peggy Cohen, assistant vice president for Institutional Research.
Classes range from exercise and sports activities to science courses to classes in literature.
Professor Kim Moreland served as associate dean for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Studies and as an English professor from August 1996 to January 2003. After resigning her position as associate dean, Moreland became a full-time professor of English.
“That’s healthiest for me and, in many ways, healthy for the institution,” she said. “I return with new excitement to full-time teaching and to an intensive focus on my own research.”
Moreland said when she worked as an administrator and professor, teaching became a refuge.
“(T)he classroom is a sacred space where the inevitable day-to-day aspects of administration – faxes, phone calls, appointments (and) meetings – cannot intrude,” she said. “So in an odd way, teaching while being an administrator is a special pleasure, reminding me just how precious that activity is.”
“I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to immerse myself in both types of positions,” she added.
Despite busy schedules, several administrator-professors said their lives would be incomplete without classes or their respective departments.
University Marshall Jill Kasle plans GW special events, including Commencement and the groundbreakings that occur when new buildings are completed. She also teaches three constitutional law classes in the University Honors Program.
“At this point, I can’t imagine what my professional life would feel like if I only did one of the jobs,” Kasle said. “In fact, every time I try to imagine a life at GW with only one of these jobs, that life feels incomplete.”
Kasle said working as a professor and an administrator is challenging.
“The only possible way that I can do both jobs is to have an enormous amount of help,” she said. “I have a student helper every year who basically runs my life.”
Sophomore Alison Dorfman, a student in Kasle’s Justice and the Legal System class, said Kasle is “an amazing juggler.”
“Professor Kasle cares about her students and always treats us as equals,” Dorfman said. “While she is in the classroom, you would never know she was an administrator. She is able to separate her academic and administrative responsibilities … When she is with her students, she is truly with them.”
Like Johnson and his racquetball class, professor Keith Betts takes an active role in students’ lives through teaching a sport.
Betts, a senior SASS executive director, said “relationships are formed between (himself) and the students” in his squash class.
Betts said his squash class does not get in the way of his administrative duties. He has worked as an administrator for 18 years and intermittently has added “professor” to his title.
“My job in the administration is working in student support,” Betts said. “To do that you need to work with students, to get feedback from them. I get to know the students (through teaching).”
Senior Jack Spencer said he has taken Betts’ squash class twice and enjoyed it.
“(Betts) was able to completely leave the administrative role outside of the classroom,” Spencer said. “He’ll joke with you about your performance, he’ll help you improve (and) he’ll tease you if you’re having a bad day.”
Spencer said he often sees Betts around campus while he is acting as an administrator.
Spencer said, “(Betts) always takes the time to stop and greet you with a handshake and a very sincere greeting.”