A Day in the Life: Dean Emmerson

Emmerson at one of his many committee meetings. Photo by Claire Leaden.
Emmerson at one of his many committee meetings. Photo by Claire Leaden.

Medieval manuscript specialist. English and American literature scholar. Mystery novel enthusiast. Whether you know him or not, these are just a few descriptions of Dr. Rick Emmerson, Dean of the School of Arts at Manhattan College.

Students and faculty in the School of Arts may know Emmerson from seeing his face in the audience at lectures and honor society inductions, meetings, or even from having him as a professor. Although he is stepping down from his position as Dean at the end of this semester, here is an inside glimpse into what his days in the job (and outside of the job) have been like over the past five years.

5:30 a.m.: Emmerson wakes up, gets a cup of coffee.

5:45 a.m.: Reads and answers emails.

6:15 a.m.: Watches “Morning Joe.”

6:45 a.m.: Makes breakfast, reads “The New York Times.”

7:15 a.m.: Gets ready.

8:00 a.m.: Walks to campus.

According to Emmerson and his wife Sandra Clayton-Emmerson, who works for the Center for Academic Success at MC, this is what a typical morning for the dean looks like.

“I’m an early riser,” he said. “I usually wake up between five and five-thirty. Probably the first thing I do is just check my email. Often I’m responding to faculty who are emailing me at one or two in the morning, a lot of them are night owls. So usually by the time I get to work I’ve kind of dealt with whatever was immediate.”

“He tends to watch the news, ‘Morning Joe,’ that’s his favorite news show in the morning,” Clayton-Emmerson added. “And he usually makes breakfast for the two of us, his specialty is egg on toast.”

Emmerson also says he tries to read the newspaper, his preference being “The New York Times.”

“I grew up in a time when you read the morning paper,” he explained. “I grew up in Washington D.C. so in the morning my parents got ‘The Washington Post’ and in the evening got ‘The Evening Star,’ which doesn’t exist anymore. So I still have that interest in reading the paper or watching a morning news show.”

After his breakfast and a dose of news, Emmerson and his wife get ready for the day and then walk down to the college together, as they live only a block away. They typically get to campus between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m.

8:30-9:00 a.m.: Arrives at the office, checks email again.

9:30-11:00 a.m.: Meetings

12:00 p.m.: Lunch in Locke’s

Though he can easily describe a typical morning, Emmerson says that it’s a bit more difficult to describe a typical day at work.

“In terms of work, there isn’t a typical day,” he said. “It’s the nature of the job that it varies very much by the day of the week but also by the month and even one semester is quite different from another. Spring is a much busier time than the fall, which is why I only teach a course in the fall.”

One thing that he does consider typical of a dean’s job is the meetings. After dealing with more emails and getting his day organized, Emmerson said that he is usually in a meeting by 9:30 a.m., and it typically will last until around 11 a.m. Still, the range of possible meetings is quite extensive.

“I’m on tons of committees,” he said. “In terms of the School of Arts there’s really only two meetings that I call, one with all the chairs of the departments, and then a faculty meeting with all of the faculty.

“And then I’m on all of these other things ranging from the Art Curriculum Committee to admissions committees, retention, budget, etc.”

Emmerson said that the days with the most meetings are usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that Mondays are when he has more uninterrupted time to get things done in his office. Currently there is a pile of publications by faculty that he is working on going through so he can credit them for their work.

He also says that there are always on-the-spot meetings, like ones with individual students if they have an issue with a teacher or a class, or if a student has been accused of plagiarism.

“As the semester goes on I try to attend various honor groups or club events,” he said. “I try to go to as many as I can.”

He also helps with mentoring the faculty, presenting faculty from the School of Arts, who are going up for tenure or promotion, to the Tenure and Promotion Committee, goes through applications and interviews potential new professors, and deals with the budgets for the ten departments and four programs within the school.

“The fall semester is more preliminary, detailed preparatory work that usually culminates in the spring,” he explained. “In the job you’re always in process of planning for the future and reporting on the past.”

Between 12 and 12:30 p.m. Emmerson eats lunch with his wife in Locke’s and then the afternoon consists of more meetings or previously mentioned work.

Emmerson showing Coyne a medieval manuscript during his independent study.
Emmerson showing Coyne a medieval manuscript during his independent study.

1:30-3:00 p.m.: Independent study

On Wednesdays of this semester Emmerson has been doing an independent study with sophomore Matthew Coyne. The course specializes in one of Emmerson’s passions and areas of expertise: medieval manuscript illustrations.

“Dr. Emmerson and I developed the study program together, so it’s completely original in that sense,” English and art history major Coyne said. “I love it so far, it’s probably my favorite class this semester hands down. Compelling, engaging and exceeding expectations.”

Emmerson holds the course in his office, which works well because of his wide variety of resources. The room is lined with shelves filled with books, including catalogues of manuscripts.

Coyne, who had Emmerson as a professor before, says that he doesn’t teach too differently from his typical class.

“What you have to understand is that Dr. Emmerson is the prolific scholar of his field, his work is amazing and that to talk with him is to have this whole world opened. I see no difference, only this time I have him to answer any question I have and expand on issues and topics as they come up without regard to time or others.”

4:00 p.m.: Walks home.

4:30 p.m.: Puts on sweats, takes dog for walk.

5:30 p.m.: Eats dinner.

6:00 p.m.: Cleans up kitchen.

6:30 p.m.: Checks email.

7:00 p.m.: Watches “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

10:00 p.m.: Goes to bed.

Emmerson and his wife usually leave campus together around 4 p.m., unless there is a lecture or student event to attend.

“Once we get home, the first thing he does is change into his sweats,” Clayton-Emmerson said. “And he takes the dog [a miniature schnauzer] out for a walk.

“I fix dinner and he cleans the kitchen. When we first got married we were going to do the very liberated thing of taking turns cooking, but after a couple of weeks of his cooking nothing but hot dogs and fish sticks, I said he had to learn to cook. And he really didn’t want to, so I just said I’d do the cooking and he’d clean up after. And we’ve been married 37 years and we’ve been doing it that way ever since.”

Clayton-Emmerson also said that he typically checks his email again, watches “Hardball with Chris Matthews” in the evening, and afterwards they enjoy watching some sort of mystery program.

“He’s a real mystery buff,” she said. “We’ve watched the new Sherlock and the Father Brown series, we watch those PBS mystery series. Usually, he’s in bed by 10 p.m., but sometimes later if he’s working on something, especially big reports that he needs a chunk of time to complete without being interrupted.”

Weekends/free time

When Emmerson has free time he and his wife enjoy a mixture of work and play, though what most would still consider work, he considers play.

“I try to remain active in my discipline so I attend a mediaeval seminar at Columbia University once a month,” he explained. “You present work to colleagues and they give feedback. I’ve also been publishing about an article a year.”

Emmerson also has a book proposal out, which will be his eighth published book.

“This will probably be my last one,” he said. “I worry that I might get bored when I’m retired so this will keep me busy.”

Clayton-Emmerson also says that they enjoy going to matinees, seeing operas at the Met, and walking the Highline. They are members at the Botanical Gardens and the Metropolitan Museum, but she says when they have free time they also like to “just chill out, put our feet up.”

As for how the dean position has affected their life, Clayton-Emmerson said it hasn’t been too different from previous jobs.

“It hasn’t affected me or our life that much, because he’s either been teaching or an administrator for as long as we’ve been married,” she said. “I guess the biggest thing is just being in New York. This is the first really big city that we’ve lived in. I like the walk-ability of it. It’s the first place we’ve lived other than England where you can walk and get things done.

“I’m less enamored of the crowdedness of the pace. Rick and I like a lot of the same things but I think he would love to live in Manhattan, but that would be too much for me.”

Emmerson actually conducts most of his research for books and articles right in Manhattan, at the Morgan Library.

“To get a better collection of original manuscripts you’d have to go to Europe, so it’s really great to have it right here, to hop on the 1 train, walk across town and then be firmly in the Middle Ages for the afternoon,” Emmerson said.

“I know it doesn’t sound like I’m really getting away from work but it really is a change from dealing with plagiarism or sitting in on meetings. I’ve been really lucky that most of my research is on what I really enjoy doing.”