By Melissa Wilk, Augustana Medium
Dean Allen Berger joined the Class of 2019 for their grad photo in the spirit of “going out together”! Photo credit: Emil Yim.
The first time I met Dean Allen Berger was at the grand re-opening of Founder’s Hall in the Fall of 2015. It was a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, and it had only been a day since I was hired as a writer for the Dagligtale Student Newspaper. My editor had frantically called me that morning to see if I could take photos, write a story and interview several alumni and of course, speak to Allen.
As a nervous first year, it took a lot of courage to walk up to Allen and ask for a few minutes of his time. My nerves went away when his first comment to me was that the old Founder’s Hall looked like a “rabbit warren”. This was only the beginning. Little did I know that over the next few years, I would be making many trips to the Dean’s office, sending him late-night emails requesting comments and just over a year later, explaining to him why our team decided to leave the Dagligtale and create our own publication.
I have had the privilege of getting to know Allen over the course of my degree, and as we sat down for a final interview, we joked about how we are both “graduating” from Augustana together. For him, that means retirement.
Allen will be stepping down as the Dean of Augustana effective June 30, 2019, at which point he will begin a year-long administrative leave, or sabbatical, and then he will officially retire January 1, 2021.
“Mostly, I find myself thinking about the journey we’ve been on,” says Allen.
In his address at the “Love, Actually” Chaplaincy Fundraiser back in March, Allen talked about love and the liberal arts. He says that one reason to help students discover what really brings them joy is that they are most likely to have a successful career if they love what they’re doing.
And, Allen loved his job at Augustana. “It has been a wonderful match. It has been thoroughly exhausting but at the same time totally joyful,” he says.
When Allen first started at Augustana in 2011, he faced challenges with “helping colleagues at North Campus understand and appreciate Augustana, while at the same time helping Augustana folks believe they really belong in this major university”.
That’s why in 2016, when David Turpin was working on the development of the strategic plan, Allen worked hard on the ninth objective in the University of Alberta plan, For the Public Good: “Facilitate and deepen inter-campus connections, communication, and collaborations with Augustana Campus, and ensure that it is strengthened as a leading liberal arts college, and as a living laboratory for teaching and learning innovation, to the benefit of the entire university.”
Allen says that even before he wrote the objective, that this was the journey that he had lead Augustana on, even though he wasn’t able to verbalize it. “Part of what my journey here has been about is embracing that identity”.
When asked about what he will be remembered for when he leaves Augustana, Allen responded with “two-ply toilet paper and signs”.
“I joke that what I will be remembered for after leaving is the fact that we got signs on both ends of town that announce the Augustana Campus. The accomplishment there was getting the phrase “proud home of Augustana” as it was the community expressing pride in us,” says Allen. “And the second thing I will be remembered for is two-ply toilet paper. I am the reason we have two-ply toilet paper because I was willing to spend the money for it”.
More seriously, Allen says he will leave feeling good about having a greater sense of “who we are and why we are essential to the U of A”. He has a sense of pride in the quality that exists at Augustana. During his time as Dean, Allen was an integral part of the implementation of the new academic calendar, which aligned with the strategic plan objective and the Augustana identity.
“After being here for two years, I reminded the faculty that when the provost asked for measures of excellence we told him we’re proud of what we do with experiential learning including CSL’s and international opportunities, and we’re proud of our connections with the community,” says Allen.
Allen further questioned that “if we really valued those things, wouldn’t we ensure that more students could have those opportunities?”. Out of that question and challenge, and after two years of discussion and debates, the new academic calendar and the first-year seminars came to fruition. “I just put the challenge out there with no answers and people rose to the occasion”.
Allen says that Augustana needs to be set apart in compelling ways so that it is seen as different, and the new academic calendar was one way to solidify that. “It is important to provide an experience that with pride and honesty we can say is high quality. We want to give prospective students a real choice,” says Allen. “Don’t come to Augustana just because of the small classes or because of your average, come to Augustana because it’s an exciting place to be and the programs are amazing, and there are so many opportunities”.
Though the new academic calendar, two-ply toilet paper and the community signs were all important accomplishments, in his eight years at Augustana, Allen has been involved in many other significant feats. Allen mentioned other projects such as the completion of new labs in the classroom building, the completion of the Rashmi Bale Learning Commons, the implementation of the Workshops in Building Capacity for Reconciliation, the start of the Theme Community House, the beginning of the donor-funded Pathways Program and the renovation of Augustana’s most beloved and historic building, Founder’s Hall.
Before finishing my discussion with Allen, I asked him what he would say if he were to address every student at Augustana one more time.
“I know it sounds really corny, and I apologize for that, but it is the truth. There are so many Augustana students who give me hope for the future. I think we live in a period of time when it’s really hard to find reasons to be hopeful,” says Allen. “We look at what’s happening around the world in terms of climate change, and in terms of the ways in which globalization is creating so much division and hatred. We look at the extreme excesses of capitalism and the growth of inequality. It’s easy to feel despair. I genuinely believe so many amazing students at Augustana give us reasons to be hopeful”.
After almost two hours of discussion, Allen asked me if I’d be attending convocation in June, and when I confirmed, he simply said: “We go out together. That’s wonderful.”
For myself and so many other students convocating this year, we will be “going out” together. And, for some of us, the last four or five years have been a time of transition and challenge, especially with the changes that have taken place in our short time at this campus.
Yet, Allen has been there every step of the way, constantly supporting and encouraging students in a variety of contexts, whether it be through attending events late into the evening or making decisions in the background that benefit us all. Dean Allen Berger will be remembered as an incredible Augustana leader for his innovation, conviction, determination and candor—not just two-ply toilet paper.
This article was originally published in the Augustana Medium.