The Secret Lives of Deans

The Secret Lives of DeansManaging budgets, hiring faculty, recruiting students, setting academic policy…the life of a university dean is a high-stress job. How do you decompress?

For one dean, it’s calling fouls on the court.

Growing up in Lexington, Ky., College of Arts and Sciences Dean Wayne Vaught says basketball was a huge part of his life. He played in youth leagues all the way through high school.

Today, Vaught works as a referee for high school varsity games a couple of nights a week. He has refereed for more than 20 years for everything from second grade to NAIA college Women’s basketball games.

“Being a referee gave me a way to stay close to the game when I stopped playing on teams. And, it is very satisfying when you are part of an exciting game, when you know you are making the right calls, and you are working to make the game better.  I just love being part of it,” he says.

Believe it or not, serving as a referee is a stress-relief for Vaught.

“Putting yourself in a high-pressure environment where people have very strong opinions about what should happen and half of the people are mad at you (often loudly so) every time you make a decision may not sound like a way to ‘escape the stresses of the day,’ but it is,” he says.

Vaught says that he gets to escape the day-to-day routine and focus on helping to ensure a fair contest in a game he loves. He attends camps, takes exams, watches games and films of his own games and more.

A raucous ice rink is where School of Computing and Engineering Dean Kevin Truman finds his respite.

As a youngster in upstate Illinois, Truman played “pond-hockey” on an outdoor basketball court, flooded by the local fire department.  He says, “I loved being out in the cold weather, trying to improve my skating, and wanting to win every battle for the puck.”

Later, as a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis in 1980, Truman fell in love with the St. Louis National Hockey League (NHL) team, the Blues, and started playing adult hockey. When his son started playing at four years old, he became a coach. Altogether, Truman has spent fifteen years as a volunteer youth coach and has trained more than 40 teams, ages 4 – 18. “When I stepped on the ice as a coach, I was able to leave my day behind me and devote 100% of me to the kids,” he says.

Truman is also a former Missouri Youth Hockey League president and spent 10 years as the USA Hockey Missouri Director of Coaches where he trained more than 6,000 coaches.

Truman was then asked to become a member of the elite National Hockey League and spent ten years working as an off-ice official in St. Louis. He served as the crew chief for 3 years, supervising 15-20 officials responsible for all facets of the game other than on-ice officiating.

“As an off-ice official, the rush from being with some of the most talented athletes in the world and the pressure associated with millions of eyes watching the game was exhilarating …. At times embarrassing (if my crew made a mistake) and others exonerating (when we helped make the right call).”

To this day, Truman says that he can smell the ice when he enters a rink. His passion for hockey is immense, and he says it was a difficult decision to retire from the NHL last year, but necessary to fully devote his time to UMKC’s SCE.

For School of Pharmacy Dean Russell Melchert, fly fishing is both his get-away and what has taught him patience.

Melchert began fishing as a child, accompanying his grandfather, father, stepfather and two older brothers on fishing adventures. By the time he was in college, Melchert was making annual trips to catch trout on fly rods with his brothers and stepfather.

He says fly fishing allows him relax and unwind with the sounds of nature…and in some pretty amazing places. Melchert says his best trip was a 10-day expedition to Alaska to fly fish for salmon by the Aniakchak volcano. He adds that he hopes to take his own son there someday.

Fly fishing makes excellent stress relief, he says.

“Sometimes, I need to get away to collect and reflect on my thoughts about my career and how I can become a better teacher and leader of this school of pharmacy,” he says. The best times for thinking clearly, the dean says, are on early morning runs, long weekend bike rides or, even better, standing beside a cold mountain stream in the summer time.

And about those life lessons: “I often want to speak or act out of instinct or natural emotional reaction, but a peaceful reflection and brief thought of the mountain streams helps me to take a breath and think before doing anything,” he says.

[UMKC Alumni Association]
Photos by Brandon Parigo, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications