Mike Curme never imagined he would be the dean of students of a university when he was in college, but at the end of this semester, he will step down from that very role at Miami University after six and a half years in the position.
In fact, Curme didn’t really envision himself in a role outside of the Farmer School of Business (FSB). Curme had been the associate dean of FSB for five years and even after he was initially offered an interim job as the dean of students back in 2012, he was still planning on returning to teaching economics.
“Then they asked, ‘Could you serve as the dean of students and the associate dean of the business school?’” Curme said. “They said, ‘You could do associate dean 75 percent and the dean of students would be 25 percent just for the spring.’
“Everybody kind of joked, ‘25 percent as dean of students, yeah?’ And my first week, my first leadership meeting, the assistant vice president for health reported that she was leaving for another job…and then before the end of the semester the vice president announced she was leaving.”
Suddenly, after only being appointed months before, Curme was not only the most senior ranking administrator in the student affairs office by title but also by experience.
So, he stuck around and stepped down as associate dean of FSB (25 percent-ing it across campus just wasn’t cutting it).
He helped pick Jayne Brownell as the new vice president of student affairs and got her situated into her new position in Miami’s student affairs office as the two of them worked together to restructure the leadership roles of the division.
“Now it’s two and a half years in, and I’m neck deep in work,” Curme said with a laugh.
After reorganizing the positions inside student affairs, Curme focused on fostering a relationship with the city of Oxford and creating a more welcoming environment with respect to alcohol and sexual and interpersonal violence.
“All of these pieces are finally coming to a place where I can feel good about them,” he said. “Now I can have someone come into the dean of students office and say, ‘here’s where we are,’ so it just makes sense. It makes sense to leave.”
Although he will be the first to defer praise from his accomplishments as dean to the student body, the reason Curme came to Miami in the first place was for a love of teaching and interacting with students.
“I guess it’ll be like going from a beat cop to a desk cop, but I think it’s really just time,” he said. “It’s a demanding position, and I do think it’s possible to stay in a position too long, so I feel really good about this being the end.”
It’s been a rewarding role in spite of the daily challenges of serving the president, fostering a relationship with Oxford and, most consequentially, working with students, Curme added.
“We work with students who find themselves derailed from their goals, and they’re wondering whether they’re going to end being successful, not just at Miami, but in life,” Curme said. “When I think about what I did as a faculty member, the decisions my students struggled with were, ‘oh, am I gonna go to law school at Michigan, or…?’ But these decisions that we see [in student affairs] are much more at a core existential level, and to be able to assist people in that way is truly a remarkable blessing.”
Every day Curme thinks about what he would have or should have done differently.
“That’s how I end every single day, with a reflection on that.”
In the fall he plans on returning to the economics department, until 2021 when he will retire and leave the university.
As far as the future beyond Miami goes, Curme has “just a few things” in the back of his brain —from going back to his roots to work with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), to being more involved in the credit union movement and even restructuring organ donation.
“As an economist, why would we ever have anybody in the United States that had any trouble finding a donor is mystifying to me,” Curme said. “What can we do to impact and improve the organ donation process?”
Looking back on the past two years, Curme has taken great pride in how much students have come together to change and improve the Miami community.
“Students should continue to challenge authority and continue to question when they think things are amiss,” he said. “But, the only times I ever feel I want to redirect that energy is to just assure them that we have 95 percent overlapping goals, and that if we ever have any hopes of accomplishing our common goals, we cannot think of this as an ‘us versus them.’”
Curme has seen a little piece of himself as a college student in some of the student leaders on Miami’s campus during his time as dean, but it’s been frustrating to watch the administration and student body be at odds.
“The people who end up in higher education are like the people who are involved in the thick of it now,” he said. “They want to stay in academia because they believe in the potential of education as the way to improve the world. By working together — and most definitely we are — we will build a better community.”
Even after the semester ends and his time as dean is over, Curme will always have students’ backs.
“I’ll be around,” he said. “I’ll block, you run; you’ve got the ball and I’ll do the dirty work.”