It is what it is: Reflections on a land-grant personality

Over the past two years, we have seen a tremendous number of colleagues leave our organization, either through retirement, resignation for other opportunities, death or staff reductions. It’s difficult to not feel devastated by the capacity we have lost as an organization and even more by the personal connections and collaborations with our colleagues. I’ve attended too many farewells, and although with each one, I am reminded of how rich we have been and how much we have been strengthened by our colleagues, I always walk away thinking, “How are we going to get our work done without this person’s skills and passion?” We’ll cope and move on, but it’s tough to swallow.

 So a few weeks ago, I found myself at another one of these receptions and found myself called upon to speak to the person’s career and personality. And as has been so often the case over the past 15 years, my good friend and colleague Frank Fear, senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, helped to remind me of what we do when we leave the retirement reception: we move on. We pick up and continue the work.

 The reception was for Frank. Dr. Fear is retiring from Michigan State University, and although he will be carrying out a number of projects over the next year as part of his retirement consultancy, he will be stepping down from the administrative role he has carried since 2005. There is so much to say about Frank, much of it humorous, but here’s what struck me during his retirement reception: Frank embodies the land-grant spirit. He truly is all about getting the work done that is put before us, whether we like it or not, whether we have all the resources we need or not. Because the ultimate resource we need is within each of us – our compassion and commitment to serve others.

 One of the things I’ve learned from Frank is that whatever situation you find – maybe it’s solvable, maybe it isn’t – the only response that makes sense is to address it. You can analyze it, try to determine the best course of action, base your analysis and action on sound principles, values and up-to-date understanding of how things work, and then act, do, pursue, try, but don’t quit. That’s what I’ve learned from Frank Fear. That’s a bit of what he has taught me about being a land-grant professional. That is his Spartan Saga.

 One of Frank’s many therapeutic phrases (for his therapy or for others, I’ve never been sure) is “It is what it is.” For me, “It is what it is” really captures that spirit of resorting to the only thing we really control – our own actions and our own commitment to serve others. At the end of analyzing a tough situation, as frustrating as a predicament may be, as intransigent as an individual may be, “It is what it is” means that a land-grant professional accepts the circumstance as it is. Angst spent on the circumstance is angst wasted. Gnashing of teeth may be therapeutic, but doesn’t accomplish anything more than wearing down the enamel on your incisors. Angst spent on figuring out how to address the circumstance, how to do so with respect to the individuals involved, that is angst well spent.

 This place won’t be nearly as fun without Frank’s wit to spice up meetings. But inevitably, I know that there will be many times in meetings when we’ll find ourselves stuck with frustration over the predicament we’re in and someone’s going to be Frank and say, “Well, it is what it is, so let’s deal with it and get done what needs to be done.”

1 Comment

Filed under Retirees

One response to “It is what it is: Reflections on a land-grant personality

  1. Lela Vandenberg

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments about Frank Fear. I wasn’t able to attend his reception and hear your remarks, but I appreciate your thoughts about his wisdom, leadership, and the humorous lens through which he looks at life. He has made so many of us better, including me.