Respected Scholar Is New Academic Leader
By Daney D. Kepple
Michael R. Drompp, Rhodes’ new academic leader, steps into his two-year appointment as Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs with three points in his favor:
He was the unanimous choice of President Troutt and the Faculty Governance Committee.
He is a distinguished scholar and teacher as well as an able administrator.
He has a solid record of leading the campus community through waters that have not always been smooth.
Drompp, a Phi Beta Kappa at Indiana University, came to Rhodes in 1989 as an assistant professor of history after teaching at Illinois State University and serving as the director of the Pacific Rim/Asia Study-Travel Program at the University of Puget Sound. He was promoted to associate professor in 1993 and full professor in 2003, and chaired both the Department of History and the Asian Studies Program for several years. Drompp has also served as Dean of Academic Affairs for Postgraduate Fellowships. He received the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1999.
Drompp’s classroom skills rest on a firm foundation. A lifelong musician who was encouraged by his parents to look for a more "practical" major, Drompp discovered the Department of Uralic and Altaic Studies at Indiana University and was captivated. His first experience was a course called "Inner Asia before the Mongol Conquest," taught by a master teacher who later became one of his mentors.
"I have stayed there ever since. I am fascinated by the relationship between the Chinese people and the nomadic peoples to China’s north. I stayed at Indiana for all three of my degrees because that was the only place in the world that could offer me that concentration," he says.
Drompp lived in Taiwan for two and a half years while writing his dissertation and studied, among other things, gourmet cooking. A few years ago he set off for Mongolia on his own and rented a Jeep, driver and translator to examine and photograph archaeological sites that had not yet been excavated. Perhaps most formative was the year he spent leading University of Puget Sound students on a year-long academic experience in Asia.
"We went to Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, India, Nepal and Pakistan, and the students studied a different course in each country," he recalls. "In Thailand we lived in a monastery and studied Theravada Buddhism. In Nepal, on a 20-day trek of the Himalayas we studied the flora and fauna of the area. I taught art history in China and still include art in many of my classes. The capstone course was on the history and cultures of the Silk Road, taught while we traveled a good portion of that ancient route. The net effect was that I truly came to value international education and its impact on students."
Soon after President Troutt arrived at Rhodes he asked Drompp to chair the Diversity Initiative, a task force charged with looking at obstacles to attaining a more diverse campus and how those obstacles could be overcome. The fact that 21 percent of the class of 2012 are students of color is an eloquent testimony to the often challenging work of that task force.
Later, Drompp led the steering committee established to oversee the faculty/trustee teams that tackled the 10 "steps forward" highlighted in President Troutt’s inaugural address. The 10 initiatives, which have since been consolidated into the Rhodes Vision and its four strategic imperatives, set such goals as recruiting and retaining the best faculty and promoting increased opportunities for students to do research, engage with the Memphis community and study abroad. They also called for curricular revision and a new library. Major progress has been achieved in all those areas.
Michael Drompp has earned the faculty’s and the administration’s trust many times over, yet he begins his new assignment with humility.
"The Diversity Initiative was a very good learning experience for me," he says. "Through it I came to see that process is important as well as outcome, and progress is often slow. As part of that work other members of the task force and I met with many groups with the goal of engaging as many constituencies as possible. It reinforced for me the tremendous importance of listening."
Drompp enters his new role with that realization. "I have great respect for the work of everyone here and for the level of trust we share. I hope to promote improved communication and strive for greater transparency. I want to honor and celebrate the work of the faculty in all its diversity. There is a marvelous variety of teaching and research and creative activity here, and I am very glad of that."
Drompp admits to some sadness at the thought of leaving the classroom. "I love teaching," he says. "I was reminded of that recently when I got a postcard from a student who is now studying in China. It is very gratifying to me that she thought of the class in which we studied the emperor who is pictured on the card. We really do have great students at Rhodes."
On the other hand, "I won’t miss grading! Over the years I’ve learned that I enjoy working with the faculty as well as with the students, and this job gives me a new way to do that."