Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Right Moment

Professor C. William Thomas

In my Baylor days, I never took a course in business and rather disdained business courses as unworthy of academic study, which should better focus on literature, history, philosophy, religion, and other courses in the humanities -- or at least on courses in the sciences.

That was sheer ignorance on my part, and over the years, I've come to realize just how important an understanding of business is for understanding our world, so I've read an economics textbook on my own and try to read a bit from the business pages in newspapers.

But in my days at Baylor, I steered clear of the Hankamer School of Business, thereby never taking a course under Professor Thomas, but he does look familiar, so I may have passed him on campus many times. I call attention to him today because an article written by him, "Standing on Tall Shoulders," appears in the current issue of Baylor Magazine (Winter 08-09, Volume 7, Number 2). I noticed it while checking to see if the promised article by Lane Murphy on Baylor's Honors Program has yet appeared presenting my words of wisdom. It hasn't, but I found some other interesting words that turned my thoughts to reflection on the vagaries of life. Professor Thomas, like me, came from a poor family, but he arrived at Baylor one decade before I did, embarking on his academic study as a freshman there in 1965 and using his facility with numbers to pursue a degree in accounting, which led to something rather unexpected:
After graduating with a bachelor's degree, I embarked on a career with a large accounting firm in Dallas. Although technically competent, I lacked passion for the job. I returned to Baylor after only 13 months to enroll in the MBA program, a decision that proved life-changing. When I graduated a year later, undergraduate enrollments in my field were exploding and qualified faculty were in short supply. Baylor came through with the opportunity of a lifetime, an offer to join the faculty of the accounting department. When I stepped into the classroom, I knew I had found my calling. The classroom was the perfect blend for my natural abilities -- the technical skills I had learned in the Baylor classroom, and the ability to communicate.
Thirty-two years later, he looks back on a career of teaching at Baylor that has brought him special honors and seen him declared a Master Teacher, but what strikes me is the fact that he found himself at Baylor University and in possession of an MBA at the precise moment when "undergraduate enrollments in . . . [his] field were exploding and qualified faculty were in short supply."

By contrast, coming along near the end of the baby-boomer generation as a freshman a decade later, in 1975, when circumstances were soon to be changing, I was to find myself by 1980 entering graduate school in history at a time of declining enrollment among students for history courses and an expanding search for diversity among faculty, which together combined to limit the openings for positions and to increase the competition for those positions. I therefore took my time in graduate school, delaying as I read widely and took my circuitous intellectual path. The job market didn't get much better, and while my life has been very interesting, and personally fulfilling, I haven't yet found myself where I'd wish to be in my career.

Whether the 'right moment' will come or not, I cannot know, but I'll go on making the most of the moments that do come.

Congratulations to Professor C. William Thomas for making the most of his.

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