In 1995 I moved to Cleveland, Ohio to take up a position as an Instructor in the History Department at Cleveland State University (CSU). For someone who had gotten her BA in the rarified atmosphere of a small liberal arts college and her MA and (soon to be PhD) at a Big Ten campus, CSU was a bit of a revelation. I was young and ill-informed about the landscape of higher education and hadn’t really given much thought to urban, public regional campuses like CSU. I had visited campus in February (not Cleveland’s best month) and my campus tour had consisted of a mad dash through hulking buildings that gave new meaning to brutalist architecture. My job offer letter included language specifying that I would be expected to regularly teach in the evening and on weekends—at that time CSU had a particularly vigorous array of courses available to adult learners who worked full-time and needed the flexibility of such a schedule. And so I taught at night. And during the day. And I taught students who were many years older than me. After eight years or so in fairly bucolic and decidedly un-urban settings, I reveled in returning to a city (I grew up in Atlanta). Cleveland was in the midst of one of its renaissances then and colleagues delighted in telling me about new restaurants and other amenities while introducing me to the city’s stalwart institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art—that was in the words of its founders “for the benefit of all the people, forever,” and where the world-class permanent collection is free. I endured the jokes of those from outside Cleveland who didn’t know better and thought I had moved to a rust-belt wasteland (they could not have been more wrong).
And I stayed. My then-boyfriend moved here. We got married. We bought a house. I found a dentist. Got a library card. I got tenure. We did what I had hungered to do my last few years in graduate school: we put down roots.
And all the while I forged a relationship with the institution where I worked. With each passing semester my respect for my students—who juggled jobs, family, debt, and food insecurity—deepened. I became passionate about public education. I got involved in faculty governance; I served on curriculum committees, faculty senate, faculty job search committees. I made a commitment to this institution and its future. I dipped a toe in administrative waters at the invitation of the the then-president of the university. I liked the work so I took on a different administrative role. I became department chair. And then I took a bigger leap and applied and was fortunate enough to be chosen to be the dean of our honors college.
And I continued to teach, at all levels of our program: survey courses, upper-level courses for majors, and courses in our MA program. I told anyone who would listen that our students were easily the best part of the job. I loved watching the interactions between eighteen-year olds, new to university life, and returning adult students. My best students routinely blew me out of the water with their insights and ideas. My struggling students challenged me but typically worked hard and were determined to improve. All of my students enriched my teaching with their life experiences and perspectives.
All the while I worked alongside amazing people. As I moved into administration I connected with a broader cross-section of the university that included staff in academic advising, student life, and student support services. I came to have a much greater appreciation of their tireless advocacy for our students.
And then suddenly (or so it seemed) I had been here twenty-four years. I have served under four presidents, and at least twice as many provosts. Is everything perfect here? Of course not. State funding for higher education has declined precipitously during that time. There are many things we could do better. But as administrators come and go and various faculty union and faculty governance battles are fought, we still, as an institution, have an important role to play. Our mission remains unchanged. Forty percent of our students are first-gen. And the most striking part of this statistic for me is how little it has changed in my time here—there is plenty of work yet to be done. Places like Cleveland State account for over a third of all the undergraduate students enrolled in four-year institutions. So clearly, we are still doing absolutely vital, life-changing work.
An institution like Cleveland State is known by various monikers: public, urban, regional, comprehensive. I just call it home.