“What I’ve always wanted to do was work with students outside of class, but what I didn’t want to do is be the dean,” he said. “I didn’t want the administrative obligations. I’m not a big fan of budgets and administrative paperwork that goes with the job.”
But after 38 years, IU’s dean of students will say goodbye Friday to crusty eyelashes from whipped cream from pies in the face.
“It really is an age thing,” McKaig said. “I could have retired last summer, but I was having so much fun in the job that I didn’t want to leave it.”
GETTING TO IU
McKaig, a Hoosier born in Lafayette and raised in Anderson, came to IU in 1971 as student government adviser with plans to leave after finishing graduate school.
After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Ball State University and spending four years at Wisconsin State University as director of student activities,
McKaig said he expected to spend three years at IU working on his graduate degree, but he ended up taking about 10 years to complete it.
In 1974, McKaig was promoted to director of student activities after being assistant director since 1972. Later, he was promoted to assistant dean, associate dean and finally dean of students in 1991.
“When I got my doctorate, I thought about leaving,” he said. “In the late ’80s I had the presumption that I should look at other options. When I became dean in ’91, I didn’t think about leaving since then.”
THROUGH THE YEARS
McKaig remembers a murder, during his first semester as dean of students, that left two students dead. A man who had been stalking a girl living in Eigenmann Hall drove across the country, shot her and her friend and then himself, McKaig said.
“That is something that stands out in my memory as something horrific that has happened,” he said. “You can imagine the range of anxieties. It’s all you can do to hold the community together. Because it happened in one of our buildings, there were a lot of security issues we had to deal with.”
McKaig was involved in student accidents fairly quickly. He was usually the first University faculty member to contact the family when a student died.
“I’m usually calling at a time when they just learned,” he said. “They are almost always still in a state of shock.”
Since the first incident in Eigenmann, McKaig had to make his fair share of phone calls to families about the loss of their child.
McKaig remembers when Jill Behrman disappeared in summer 2000.
“Jill was a very frustrating thing for everyone involved because you didn’t know what was going on,” McKaig said. “It happened over the summer, so the campus was a different place.”
McKaig said he remembers dealing with the deaths of five Jacobs School of Music students who died in a 2006 plane crash coming back from West Lafayette.
“I can remember very visibly the phone call I received early in the morning that there had been a plane crash,” he said. “Out of all the tragedies I’ve dealt with, it has a special remembrance. It really struck home very hard. They were very gifted.”
Though student tragedies were never easy to deal with, McKaig said he still enjoyed the student interaction he received on campus. He said he spent more time on campus than he did in the Bloomington community, which is why he stays involved in Bloomington to equal out his commitments. McKaig is on the Bloomington Volunteer Action Committee, the Bloomington Cancer Society and the Bloomington Rotary Club.
“This provides me with an outlet to know people outside the University,” McKaig said. “My neighbors know that from August to May, I tend to be on campus more than in the neighborhood.”
McKaig’s office is lined with shelves displaying “tricks of the trade,” gifts from students including a glass eagle, glass duck and a large rock sitting proudly on the shelves among 27 coffee mugs from various events he has attended. Every yearbook since 1991, the year McKaig became dean, gathers dust among T-shirts and photographs of his grandchildren. A bulletin board with hundreds of buttons from student activities hangs on one wall while the opposite wall displays plaques from various awards McKaig received.
McKaig tried to attend three events each weekend. During football season, he could be found on the student side watching the Hoosiers attempt to defend The Rock.
“I was a judge at the freshman beginnings group,” McKaig said of one of his many student involvements. “They have a cookout with various ingredients. I’d never had pasta with peanut butter before. That was interesting.”
Now, McKaig said, he is ready to spend more time with his grandchildren, but he isn’t sure he’s ready to leave the IU students behind.
McKaig plans on spending a majority of his time with his grandchildren, two of whom live in Phoenix. McKaig said he hopes to disappear to Phoenix for a good part of the year.
“I’m going to miss the excitement and challenges that go along with the job and not knowing what will be the next thing I’m dealing with,” McKaig said. “I will miss the student activities. When all is said and done, I’ll probably regret I didn’t get another shot at the Cardboard Boat Regatta.”
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