In the next several issues of Update, we will profile the deans of our colleges and schools. We start with Dr. Richard
R. Ranta, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts.
Dr. Richard R. Ranta
1. As the founding dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts, what has been
the most memorable event of your tenure so far?
“One of the things that is the most memorable and meaningful is my close involvement
with the college, and most specifically, with the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology
in the Department of Art. I was heavily involved with starting the Ramesses the Great exhibition, which led to the Wonders Series that went on for many years. I still have a photograph on the wall of the cover of
Memphis State Magazine with these tiny little human figures standing in front of this colossus Ramesses
2. What is the most difficult aspect of being a dean?
“Telling people things they don’t want to hear. Some of those are questions that involve
tenure and promotion. Others are budgetary matters. Lately we’ve had less-than-fun
moments as we’ve had to reduce staff and cut back the length of contracts. I don’t
think anybody enjoys that. They’re the kind of things that keep you up late and wake
you up. It preys on your mind.”
3. What do you enjoy the most about being a dean?
“In this college, there are so many exciting and wonderful things to do. It gives
me license to do them all in one way or the other: wander around, be invited to all
kinds of cool things, poke my nose into stuff, ask crazy questions and learn a lot.
Since I have an eclectic arts background, it’s been fun to be involved with the visual
arts, film and television, music, theatre, all those things I’ve dabbled in one way
or another over the course of my almost 68 years. It’s a taxing job that takes an
immense amount of time because there are always things to do. Some other deans can
be done with their academic side of the world come 5 p.m., but so often my schedule
is just cranking up again. So many of the things I need to go to are taking place
at 5 p.m. and go on until, in some cases, midnight. You need to be something of a
night owl at this job.”
4. What did you want to be when you grew up?
“I wanted to be a forest ranger. I had an uncle who was one, and I would go out with
him into the wilderness of Minnesota and prowl around.”
5. When you eventually retire, what are your plans?
“I’ve been involved in a lot of community activities and think I’ll probably continue
to do some of those. I do plan to spend a lot more time at our cottage in northern
Minnesota. We have a not very large, but very lovely, cottage on a wilderness lake.
You have to go 1.5 miles by water to get there. I can go out in the backyard, into
total wilderness and a canoe entry point is there. I have to hustle to spend as few
as two weeks there, more often three. I look forward to turning those weeks into months.
Plus, it’s a much better place, as far as temperature is concerned, to be than Memphis
6. You are a longtime donor to the U of M. Why did you originally start donating, and
what keeps you giving every year?
“I almost grew up with the notion that one of the things that you’re supposed to do
is give back to your schools. I don’t remember when I got started, but it was early
on, maybe as early as ’72 or ’73. It started in a painless way, initially through
individual amounts on a payroll deduction plan. I’ve added to that over the years
as resources and projects became more evident. It didn’t used to be that giving to
state universities made a lot of sense, because you’re already giving to state universities
through taxes and other support. But, given that the governments of states are no
longer supporting state universities as they should, it’s increasingly important that
donations are given. Without the kind of help that private donors can provide, you
would have a much poorer university, in the sense of not as enriched, not as able
to do its job or deliver the kind quality of education we want.”
7. What is the best advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
"It was given to me by a mentor and former boss. At one time I served as assistant
vice president for Academic Affairs; that was before I became dean of CCFA. The person
who was vice president was Jerry Boone. We became, and still are, good friends. He
gave me a lot of advice about a lot of things. But, the best thing was his advice
of never seeing anybody or taking any phone calls after 4 p.m. on a Friday. The reason
for this is that somebody is going to be bringing you some trouble that you can’t
do a thing about. All they want to do is unload this on you so they can have a good
weekend and you can’t.”
8. What is the best advice you’ve ever given to a student?
“Outside of ‘go to class,’ it’s the advice I’ve given to graduate students involved
with theses or dissertations. You’ve got to stop researching and start writing. What’s
most important in writing is finishing a draft of the project. Many students get so
hung up doing research or trying to perfect the first chapter, that they lose the
excitement and interest in the project. That accounts for a significant number of
people who are AbD (all but dissertation), rather than getting the PhD, whereas, if you get that draft done, then it’s an editing
job or a filling in, correcting and tweaking job. So, basically it comes down to two
things: go to class and finish your degree.”
9. Best advice ever given to a parent:
“Parents need to understand that going to school is your student’s job, and they need
to treat it accordingly. If students do the things they sometimes try to do in class
on a job, like not showing up, being late, messing around, what happens to them? They’re
fired. A similar thing will happen to them here. If you don’t treat it like a job
that you can lose, you will in fact lose it. “
10. Do you consider yourself to be artistic?
“I used to do some pretty good photographs. A long time ago, I used to play keyboards,
and still occasionally I sing Star Spangled Banner or old tunes. I enjoy the arts a great deal now, and am a supporter of the arts,
particularly here at the University. What you end up being in a job like this is more
of a supporter, a helper and someone who can try to solve problems for folks. I like
11. What makes you laugh?
“I enjoy comedies, incongruous kind of things, and my crazy golden retriever makes
12. Tell us about your family.
“My wife Carol is a professor here at the University. She’s a well-known art historian
of folk art, particularly self-taught and religious connected folk art. She’s currently
an editor of a forthcoming volume of Folk Art in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, so that speaks to her credentials in that area. We have four children. We both
were married before. She brought to the family three girls. They haven’t all lived
in Memphis, but they do now. We live very close to the University and they come to
the house a lot, and not only for the large swimming pool, but also to bring over
Carol’s babies (grandchildren). All the grandchildren are girls, so I’m surrounded
by women. The office I’m in is all women, too. I do have some male direct reports
from area heads and our LSP is male, but in the office, and at home and even to a
female dog, I’m surrounded by women. The other male in the family is my son. He and
his wife live in New Orleans.”