Boyd reveals why he chose Guilford


Frank Boyd is Guilford College’s new vice president of academic affairs and academic dean. He was previously the associate provost at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he also taught classes and he holds a doctorate in political science from Emory University and a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Alabama. The Guilfordian sat down with Boyd to learn more about him.


Q: What drew you to Guilford?

A: There are hundreds and hundreds of liberal arts colleges across the country, and it’s very hard to distinguish one institution from another often times. They’re all doing, really, the same kind of work, but Guilford is truly distinctive. It’s not just the Quaker heritage, but it’s the commitment to the social justice and progressive issues that you can see manifested in the curriculum, and in the cocurricular program on campus. So it’s not just an add-on, it really lies at the core of who the institution is. And that’s different, that really is distinctive.


Q: Why did you choose your field of study? What is the coolest thing about it?

A: I chose the field of study because when I was in college, I had been in the Navy for four years, and when I was discharged from the Navy and started college it was 1986. It was right when the Iran-Contra affair was exploding. A lot of the initial kind of coverage and discourse really ignored what I saw as a constitutional crisis. I took more and more political science classes and that was really the first time I thought about maybe going to graduate school. And interestingly enough, it was not a political science professor who stimulated that line of thinking. It was an instructor who was an ethnomusicologist. Ethnomusicology is kind of a large field, but it studies the social and cultural aspects of musical practice. There was just a really inspirational professor that I had, and for the first time I thought that would be a great profession, to be a professor, where you were just studying something you were interested in. The coolest thing about studying political science is that political science, at its very core, is the study of how people cooperate. I just find it very interesting to think about the processes or institutional structures that can promote cooperation or retard cooperation. The worst part about being a political science professor is that everyone wants to tell you their “theory” about what should be done or what has happened.


Q: What is the best part of teaching? And the worst?

A:  Worst part of teaching? Grading. Easy. That is easy. And students will say, they will moan about exams and how horrible it is to take them. I can assure you, grading them is worse. The best part about teaching is when a professor is doing it right, you are fully present and fully engaged in the classroom. That feeling, that collective feeling of being connected in a group inquiry that is really interesting and when everyone is pushing in the same direction, that’s the best part about being a professor.


Q: What academic accomplishment are you most proud of as a professor and/or student?

A: Well I was very proud to finish my degree. No one in my family in my family had earned a P.h.D. In recent years, increasingly I get asked by colleagues at other institutions to come to their campuses and help them work through thorny issues. I very much enjoy that work. I enjoy the opportunity to help my peers in higher education and I always learn a tremendous amount when I’m doing that work.


Q: If you weren’t a professor what would you do?

A: I would be an architect. I really am fascinated by design and the extent to which design conditions how we live, how we interact with each other. I really, though I apparently have no skills in that area, would be an architect. Or a musician, I really love music. Again, apparently, my skill level would not have made that a productive endeavor for me. A lot of the music that I enjoy listening to is the juxtaposition of two or more musical styles that might not necessarily be naturally paired with each other. What I would like to do is think about how different musical styles may be combined.


Q: Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned.

A: That is very easy. When I graduated from high school I went to the University of Alabama and I lasted the summer and fall semester. I had to leave the university and that’s when I went into the Navy for four years. There were a whole variety of lessons I learned from that. Among them, being conscious about why I was at college or why I was doing something. I hadn’t really thought about it. People in my family, when you graduated from high school you went to college, that’s what you did. But I was unclear on what exactly I wanted to study or what I wanted to do or why the University of Alabama. None of that, I never really considered any of those questions, and so trying to be conscious and self aware about the choices that one makes.


Q: Tell me about something you wish you knew as an undergraduate student that you would share with today’s college students.

A: Be a professional everyday. What students don’t understand in undergraduate school is that you are becoming a professional of some kind. And undergraduate students often think about their work in terms of turning it on and turning it off. Thinking, “I’m gonna bear down Thursday and Friday because I have an exam on Monday,” when that is completely wrongheaded. Every day you need to be on point, you need to be doing your best work every day. That doesn’t mean you’re not having fun along the way, quite the contrary. But there’s no reason to coast. If you’re up and you’re in class, be engaged in class. Students think that they can just turn that on and off, and what happens? They develop habits of mind that are not good, and some people carry those habits on for the rest of their lives, and they’re not the best version of themselves.


Q: How do you start your day?

A: I’m a morning person by nature and so I get up early, very early, 5 o’clock. What I try to do every morning is to think about what I need to get accomplished that day, and to think about that first. Because if the first impulse is to open up my email, rather than focusing on the most important thing that needs to be done that day I ended up focusing on the loudest thing that day, or the thing that’s right in front of me. That’s something I really have to work at. I listen to “Morning Edition” on NPR every day. I can do that while I’m getting dressed, or shaving or whatever, so then, by the time I’m ready to go to work, I’m not tempted to read the newspaper or look at a website or anything because I’ve already got all that.


Q: How do you finish your day?

A: I usually finish my day by reading, and that could be a wide variety of things. I’ll have articles that I’ll archive on my computer so I can go back and look at those. I don’t have a nighttime routine in the same way I do in the morning. I do some reading, that’s really the only constant.


Q: What’s the last book you read for fun and why?

A: I just finished two books, George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo” and then our own professor Mylène Dressler’s “The Last To See Me.” Which is very odd because generally speaking I have not read a lot of fiction that deals with a lot of magical realism or ghosts or anything like that, and they’re both ghost stories in way. Why? Well I work with Mylène so everybody had talked about how fantastic her fiction is and so I wanted to read that. George Saunders’ was given to me by my wife and my son. They are both George Saunders fans so I figured I needed to read it. My daughter and I read it.