A Foreign Dean of Students at a Japanese University
By Robert W. Norris

Below is an excerpt from The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me by Robert W. Norris. 



The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me traces the trials, tribulations, and unbreakable bond of two Pacific Northwest characters. Kay Schlinkman grows up on the banks of the Columbia River in the 1930s and 1940s. She overcomes a small logging town’s ostracism in the late 1950s for her divorce, excommunication by the Catholic Church for remarrying, severe criticism and rejection for defending her son’s refusal to go to war, and the burden of paying off her second husband’s gambling debts. She takes night classes to become qualified as a legal secretary in her fifties and continues to work until she’s seventy-eight.

Robert Norris goes to military prison as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, embraces the counterculture upon release, wanders the world in search of his identity, and eventually lands in Japan, where he finds his niche as a university professor, spends two years as the dean of students, and retires as a professor emeritus. Despite their separation by the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Robert and Kay maintain a lifelong commitment of love, respect, and support that enriches both their lives. This story provides a heart-warming example of how far a mother and son can go in maintaining their bond against all odds. A must read for all mothers and sons, and for those who’ve wondered what the road less traveled would’ve been like had they taken that first step.


Excerpt from The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me

As the semester rolled on, I slowly got into a rhythm and gained some confidence in carrying out my duties. The key to survival was time management and staying ahead of the game. That first year as dean of students sticks in my head as a jumble of events, activities, plans, decisions, disciplinary actions, speeches, panel discussions, constant references to the electronic dictionary that never left my side, embarrassing moments of miscommunication, exchanges of business cards, speed reading of Japanese e-mails and school-related paperwork, meetings, more meetings about the meetings, and even more meetings about meetings to come.

Among the things that stick out in memory most are the regional and national conferences with representatives from many schools exchanging ideas on how to deal with student problems. Hirashima-san attended the regional conference with me and did most of the speaking, but he had to leave early. At one point, someone asked for help in dealing with a sudden influx of foreign students. No one else had any solutions to offer, so I took the microphone and explained how in the previous year FIU had faced the same problem. We’d created a new committee specifically for dealing with foreign exchange students. Over the past year, the committee was able to help our exchange students by finding affordable housing; offering scholarship possibilities based on academic performance, participation in cross-cultural events, and volunteer activities; guidance in visa requirements and laws; guidance in filling out required paperwork for class enrollment; and sending out committee members to check on and issue warnings to those who’d missed more than two classes in a row. In a few cases, a student disappeared. The school contacted immigration and expelled the student. While I was talking, several of those in attendance took notes.

At the national convention, there were representatives from more than three hundred fifty universities and colleges. I was the lone foreigner and stuck out like a sore thumb. At the end of the first day as I was heading out the door of the convention hall, a dean of students from another university walked up to me and asked, “How did you get to be the dean?” I was too tired to get angry. I looked at him for a moment, sighed, and said, “I guess our board of directors was desperate. These are tough times, you know.”

In addition to the conferences, I sometimes had to go on the road to visit high school counselors and try to convince them to send some students to FIU. More than once, the counselor told me directly that our school’s ranking was too low for him to consider. In other cases, the counselor was also an English teacher, greeted me warmly, and spent a good portion of the meeting speaking in English. One even took me out for dinner and drinks that night.

The local and regional parent-teacher conferences were exhausting, particularly if the parents at the get-togethers afterwards for drinks and dinners tried to weasel their way into a special relationship that would favor their child getting recommendations for and introductions to job opportunities while job hunting in their senior years. In particular, there was one father from Kagoshima who’d been active in promoting FIU in his prefecture and somehow believed he should be rewarded for having convinced a few kids to come to our school over the past two years. He hounded me with e-mails and phone calls for a full month after his area’s conference. I remembered the time teaching at the junior college when one of my homeroom students miscalculated how many credits she had and ended up one credit short of being able to graduate. She would lose the job she’d been promised by a good company. The school’s policy was that she had to pay full tuition for one more semester, take the credit she needed, and pass it in order to graduate. Her parents came to my office and pleaded for me to do something. They even tried to pass some bribe money to me under the table. I refused to take the money. It was an awkward and embarrassing moment. I didn’t want a repeat of that, so I finally wrote back to the Kagoshima father and told him to stop contacting me. His son was a good kid and would do fine without any interference.

There were a few cases of student cheating to deal with. During the final exams of the first semester, two students got caught using cheat sheets. We had a system with two teachers on duty during the exams who could respond immediately. Despite the warnings issued before all exams, there were always a few students who took the risk. If they got caught, the teacher proctoring the exam and making the claim would be interviewed and notes would be taken. The students accused of cheating would also be interviewed. An emergency committee meeting would be held to discuss the case and decide if the students were guilty. If guilty, they would be called into the dean’s office and informed of their punishment, which generally was forfeiture of all semester credits for a first-time offender and expulsion from school for a second-time offender.

This time, both students were first-time offenders and admitted their guilt. My first inclination was to take pity on them. I’d been an anti-authority wiseass for much of my youth. The irony was that now I was the authority figure and, in essence, the judge of their cases. While pronouncing their punishment, I flashed back to my court martial at the age of nineteen and the feelings I had when the Air Force judge pronounced my prison sentence. One of the students broke down in tears. I did what I could to encourage her and let her know it wasn’t the end of the world.


About the Author

Robert W. Norris was born and raised in Humboldt County, California. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and served time in a military prison for refusing his order to fight. In his twenties, he roamed across the United States, went to Europe twice, and made one journey around the world. In 1983, he landed in Japan, where he became a professor at a private university, spent two years as the dean of students, and retired as a professor emeritus. He is the author of three novels, a novella, a memoir, and over twenty research papers on teaching. He and his wife live near Fukuoka, Japan. You can learn more about the author at his homepage: http://www2.gol.com/users/norris/


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