After the news broke in early January that SU’s Honors College would be looking for a new dean, many students were left surprised at the announcement.
But for Dr. James Buss, the opportunity seemed all too perfect to pass up.
After five years at SU, the previous two as the dean of the Honors College, Buss accepted a position to be the founding dean of the Honors College at Northern Kentucky University.
A well-known name in the national realm of honors education, Buss led the SU Honors College to newfound success with a spike in honor student enrollments. Despite that success, Buss felt it was time to move on.
The decision had been brewing since the end of last semester, with the position becoming open in November. But the process afterwards happened rather quick as Buss had interviewed and been offered the position within the next two months.
In an email addressed to all Honors College students, Buss informed them that he and his wife, Faculty Director of the Bellavance Honors Program Dr. Leanne Wood, would be leaving the university following June 31 of this summer.
“While we are saddened by our departure from Salisbury, we are also excited about opportunities at Northern Kentucky University,” Buss said in a statement.
The statement was made after it was announced by NKU, a report from the Cincinnati Business Courier began circulating and students began finding out. There were some students who had only found out through each other.
“I found out through the old president of the Honors Student Association (HSA) because [she] was friends with [Dr. Buss] on Facebook,” HSA President Austin Dabbs said.
In spite of no prior warning though, Dabbs did not feel shocked by the announcement. Crediting the job Buss has done bringing the college to where it is today, Dabbs feels like the announcement does not inhibit the future of the Honors College.
“Dr. Buss has done so much for the college so far, and he has put us in such a good position to carry on forward that it was just a new piece of information,” Dabbs said. “It wasn’t ground-breaking or ‘apocalypse now’ it was just ‘ok, well we are going to get a new director.’”
While professional success at SU has been a key for Buss, the decision was very much a personal one.
“Most of my family lives in the Ohio area…I’ve spent a better part of my adult life in Oklahoma and Maryland which are not near Ohio,” Buss said. “Having an opportunity do something very similar to what we did at [SU] close to family was important.”
Buss felt strongly about the professional opportunity that NKU provided him, along with the chance to continue his career closer to home. One of the specific aspects that was helped influence his decision to pursue the opening at NKU was the amount of first-generation college students that are enrolled there.
Throughout his career Buss has felt drawn to those students drawing similarities to his own life.
“I myself am a first-generation college student, and as the first person in my family to go to college I didn’t know that honors education existed,” Buss said. “I understand coming from those backgrounds how difficult it is to understand what college is like and particularly get involved in something like honors.”
The position that Buss will step into mimics the one he accepted at SU years ago, as the founding dean of the honors college getting another chance to help shape a college out of an honors program.
Taking those aspects into consideration, one thing Buss continued to return to was the idea of being within a couple hours of family. He accepted the position over winter break while in Ohio, surrounded by the family members that drew him back home.
“This position opened up and it was the perfect collision of things,” Buss said. “A perfect coincidence that it was close to family, it served a purpose and I understood what they were asking.”
The next step for SU has already been outlined as the search for a new dean begins. Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Karen Olmstead announced that a search committee had already been created to find Buss’ predecessor.
“I don’t think we will have any trouble finding really highly qualified applicants,” Olmstead said. “We want to keep the focus on forward moving and trying to get somebody here on July 1 that has a lot of expertise in honors education.”
Olmstead reiterated the loss that she feels for SU with Buss’ departure and that he will be missed but understands the decision and feels that he will have a successful time at NKU. She also feels that with how far the SU Honors College has come in recent years that the new dean will be able to come in and work with the specialized programs on the horizon.
Both Olmstead and Dabbs clearly agreed on one thing, that although he will be missed because of the college he has helped build, they will be able to continue on after he is gone.
“It is a credit to any leader who leaves and there is a way for their unit to maintain momentum,” Olmstead said. “To me that is the mark of a really good leader and I think that Dr. Buss is leaving the Honors College in that kind of shape.”
As the transition happens following this spring semester SU will look to push forward on the new projects that have been unveiled, like the new Henson Honors Program that was announced in the fall.
“The HSA has become more autonomous over the years and I would say this is going to be its most autonomous semester,” Dabbs said. “The only thing that could change is we are losing two friends, but I think the college will be just fine and continue to grow.”
By CHASE GORSKI
Featured photo: SU’s Bellavance Honors Center (Emma Reider image).