Reflections on Susan Van Pelt Petry

Michael J. Morris

I first met Susan Van Pelt Petry in 2008 when I auditioned for the MFA program. Seven years later, I am completing my PhD, and Susan has been chair of this department for my entire time here.

During our years together, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Susan on revising departmental administration documents and informal performances. She has mentored my teaching and guided me as I navigated my move onto the job market. We have had rich, lively and sometimes difficult conversations about dance, art, gender, my research and administration and departmental practices; we have had fun conversations about fashion. I have watched as she has led our department through ceaseless transition—from quarters to semesters, out of Sullivant Hall and back again, through new faculty hires, and through changing administrative personnel year after year.

I have seen her raising and distributing funds, managing schedules and resources, resolving conflicts and issues, making and staging dances, celebrating the accomplishments of faculty and students and consistently presenting herself as the confident, capable face of our department across the university. The Ohio State University Department of Dance has thrived because of her direction and care.

There are so many things I have learned from Susan about being a leader, and I can only mention a few here: Practice trying to say yes, and when something does not seem possible, try to find ways to make it possible. Be open to change, and allow the challenge to change to become an opportunity for creativity and invention. When interpersonal tensions or conflicts arise within a community—because whatever else a department is, it is also a community—do not shut down continuing conversation.

Keep learning, always. The most effective leadership comes from a place of care for those who are moving with you. It would be unjust to say that Susan has made being the chair of this department look effortless. In actuality, I have seen probably only a glimpse of how difficult and demanding this job can be. Rather than “effortless,” Susan has modeled gracious, persistent effort within constantly shifting complexity and demand, and that is only a part of what has made her such an effective leader.

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