Update: Monday, 1:22 p.m.
Paul Parsons started his tenure as dean of Elon University's School of Communications near the time of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Last month, the nation mourned the 16th anniversary of the monumental event. As Parsons thought about it, he realized he's been in the same position for nearly two decades.
He said it was time for a change.
"I did eight years of the Bush administration, eight years of the Obama administration, and now I'm in the first year of the Trump administration," Parsons said. "That's getting to be a long period of time."
On Monday, Provost Steven House sent an email to faculty and staff announcing Parsons will step down as dean at the end of this academic year, completing 17 years in the role. Parsons said he and House discussed his plans late this summer, and he formally notified House in September. After taking a sabbatical, Parsons will return to teach at Elon full time .
"Early on in my time as dean, I told a number of people, including the Provost, that I want to finish my time here as a professor — not as a dean," Parsons said. "I feel as if I'm fulfilling a promise and a pledge I made to myself.
"I love teaching, and right now all I get to do is to come to Com 100 classes, introduce myself and talk about the curriculum and majors," Parsons said.
Since becoming the school's founding dean in 2001, Parsons guided the School of Communications to hold 1,250 undergraduate and graduate students and 75 full-time faculty and staff. About 20 percent of Elon's student body is majoring in the school today. Those majors include journalism, strategic communications, cinema & television arts, communication design, media analytics and sport management.
Prior to his time at Elon, he worked professionally as a journalist before working 16 years as a faculty member at Kansas State University. There, he eventually rose to associate director of the school of journalism and mass communications.
"I worked 16 years as a faculty member before I came to Elon and worked 17 years here as a dean," Parsons said. "I feel like I want to finish my time here — and I don't know how many years that will be — as a faculty member again."
Elon is one of 18 private universities in the country to have an accredited communications school. Others include Syracuse University, Baylor University — where Parsons attended as an undergraduate — and the University of Southern California.
Parsons said there was "not a better time" to announce this decision. Elon completed its multi-year renovation project of the school of communications highlighted with the construction of Schar Hall, a 45,000-square-foot facility last year.
And last week, a team from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications visited Elon's campus. It found the School of Communications in compliance on all standards and recommended reaccreditation for the next six years. It found zero weaknesses in the school.
In their report, the team wrote, “The dean is admired within the School and across campus for his vision and strategic ambition, openness to ideas, encouragement of experiment and creativity, patience and persistence, fairness and grace.”
Parsons said if he left sooner, it wouldn't have felt right.
"The School of Communications is in a great place," Parsons said. "Now, this gives Elon enough time to conduct a national search and start writing a new chapter in the school's history.
But amid all of the school's success, Parsons said he is proud of the students' work. In his tenure, Elon journalism students and organizations have won two collegiate Emmys, gold and silver ADDY awards, championships in filmmaking and sports analytics, and national top-10 recognition in writing, multimedia and broadcast in the Hearst Journalism Awards.
"We are seeing our students do great work and being recognized, and we're seeing alumni doing excellent work," Parsons said. "The University is not about the dean, it's not about the faculty, it's about the students. Building a national reputation for this school has been important because it means when Elon students apply for positions, people increasingly say, 'Oh, Elon,' and can raise an Elon application."
House said he, along with President Leo Lambert, incoming President Connie Book and the Academic Council, will begin an immediate national search for the next dean. The new dean's tentative start date is June 1, 2018.
"Elon is a very collegial school," Parsons said. "The staff and faculty get along marvelously. My first piece of advice for the next dean is to work hard to preserve that atmosphere here."