Dr. Bruce Kramer announced today that he is taking a leave of absence, effective immediately, as dean of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling in order to deal with his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Kramer told a luncheon meeting of CELC faculty, staff and advisory board members that he believes he no longer can work because of the progression of his ALS, which was diagnosed in December 2010.
“I hoped this day would never come,” he said, but “for the past few months the rhythms and demands of being the dean have twisted and rolled until they were 180 degrees out of time with the lockstep rhythms and demands of my dis ease, my ALS.”
Kramer recalled how he wrote to his colleagues 22 months ago about his ALS diagnosis, promising that he would stay on as dean as long as he felt he could be an effective leader, and he thanked them for their hard work and friendship.
“In spite of the physical, psychological, even cultural challenges of this journey, I am blessed,” he said. “The opportunity to work with all of you – first as your faculty colleague, then as your dean; to work for the betterment of people through skillful education, considered leadership, emotional and social support, healing and counsel; and best of all, to be alive in the challenges of our times, shoulder, mind to mind, together with you, my dearest colleagues – has blessed me.”
Dr. Susan Huber, executive vice president and chief academic officer, announced that Dr. David Rigoni will serve as interim dean until Kramer’s permanent replacement is named. She hopes to name a search committee later this month. Rigoni, an associate dean since 2006 and a faculty member since 2000, said he will not be a candidate for permanent dean. Dr. Christopher Vye will continue to serve as an associate dean.
Huber served with Kramer on the School of Education faculty before she became executive vice president, and said she had been “dreading” and “denying” Thursday for a long time.
“What we can do today is to thank Bruce, to give him our admiration and to send him our love,” she said. She called him a friend, colleague, teacher and, she added, “our hero.”
Kramer joined the education leadership faculty at St. Thomas in 1996 after nearly two decades as a music teacher and principal at elementary and secondary schools in Indiana, Norway, Egypt and Thailand. He became chair of the Education Leadership Department in 2003, associate dean in 2006, interim dean in 2008 and dean in 2009.
An avid bicyclist who prided himself on his physical condition, Kramer noticed he had a “floppy” left foot in the summer of 2010 and thought it might be a pinched nerve or sciatica. After falling twice that October, he saw a neurologist, who conducted tests and determined he had ALS.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the New York Yankees star, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting brain and spinal cord nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. Those cells die. Patients have difficulty breathing when chest muscles stop working and can become paralyzed. Most live two to five years after diagnosis.
Kramer began drug treatments, entered a drug trial and makes quarterly visits to the Mayo Clinic, where physicians evaluate his status. He has written Dis Ease Diary, a blog in which he shares news about his condition and his sentiments, since March 2011 and spoke about his fight against ALS in a St. Thomas magazine story this fall.
Even as Kramer struggled with the physical aspects of ALS, he still came into the office on most weekdays and remained engaged with his college’s work. He said neither his heart nor his head had lost its passion for work, but blamed “this imperfect and broken body.”
“Please know how grateful I am to each one of you for what you have given me,” he said. “The chance to continue when our able-bodied world says stop, the chance to work when the message is to give up, the chance to be with each one of you and to represent you in a larger sphere, the chance to recognize my privilege in this work from the first day I was on the job, the chance to develop the confidence I have in those who stand ready to continue our cause.”
Kramer also announced that his family has established an “Award for the Common Good” to acknowledge CELC’s support of him during his illness.
“Each year you will be asked to nominate a member of our community at large who has demonstrated the same kind of love you have shown to me, to be honored in the same way I now honor you,” he said.
After several colleagues, including Huber, Rigoni, Vye and Dr. Tom Fish, paid tribute to Kramer, he spoke for one last time. He encouraged people to stay in touch and drop by for lunch, joking that he would be appropriately dressed for any visits.
“I’ll be watching how things go,” he said. “I’m your biggest cheerleader, your biggest fan. Thank you for everything.