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October 27, 2016

Faculty, staff offer input in A&S dean search

“Obviously, arts and sciences is the heart and soul of the University, and we need to make sure we bring in an awesome leader,” said Executive Vice Provost David DeJong, addressing three dozen in attendance at the Oct. 21 forum to discuss the hiring of a new dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

DeJong, chair of the dean search committee, introduced two representatives of the search firm hired to replace Dean N. John Cooper, who will step down from his post in August 2017 and return to teaching.

Vice president Anita Tien and associate Carrie Alexander of Boston-based Isaacson Miller noted that their firm specializes in nonprofit executive searches.

“This is a search that is going to attract a lot of attention,” said Tien. “We’re expecting the issue will not be getting people interested, but finding the right people for Pitt.”

Deans generally fulfill five roles, she added: They are the face and champion of their school, internally and externally; a student of the higher-education landscape, discovering what is trending in the field and what other institutions have made changes worth emulating; a statesperson; a strategist implementing a vision; and a strong administrator and manager of people, resources and structures.

Pitt staff, faculty and students in attendance had their own ideas about characteristics the search committee should seek in the next Dietrich school dean.

Said Neepa Majumdar, English faculty member: “The strength of Pitt is, it hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon that lots of universities have, and that is to only think of austerity,” making the arts and humanities the lowest-priority majors and instead emphasizing undergraduate degrees that lead more directly to jobs and professional posts. “Dean Cooper was someone who really cherished every department’s accomplishments,” Majumdar said. The committee should seek a similar individual, she said: “somebody who is that invested in the scholarship — that would be very important to me.”

Several people urged the committee to consider a dean who would value the College of General Studies (CGS) as part of the Dietrich school. Janet Asbury, staff member in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid and a CGS student, pressed for “someone who is going to give us a little bit of attention in the College of General Studies. We sometimes feel like a bit of an afterthought.”

The need to consider a diverse pool of candidates, as well as diversity more generally in classroom and administrative decisions, was advocated by several others at the forum.

Lisa Scott, of the Dietrich school’s student support services office, saw value in programs that aid nontraditional, first-generation and low-income students “who may not feel welcome at the University. I’m looking for some change with the administration … when it comes to diversity,” she added.

Linguistics department staff member LaShanda Lemmon recalled: “When I was an undergraduate, I felt like there were a lot more programs for the youth of the city,” and asked that the new dean institute additional programs to bring greater diversity to Pitt classrooms.

German faculty member Amy Colin decried recent cuts to degree programs in religious studies, German and classics, and suggested such cuts should not be made under a new dean. She also pushed for more collaboration among disparate school departments: “I have been here a long time and I have never witnessed a major collaboration between arts and sciences,” Colin said. Perhaps there should be one dean for the arts and humanities and another for the sciences, she concluded.

Other Pitt employees believed the new dean should remain as involved in the individual departments as was Cooper. Forum participants also cited his attention to development and to the University Center for International Studies and its study-abroad programs.

Aaron Henderson, faculty member in studio arts, said that Cooper “was really good at listening. He knew what we were doing … and used that to advocate for us.” He said the new dean should be someone “who sees that value in the liberal arts education.”

DeJong said further input on the dean search may be added through the search website ( and its feedback survey (

“I want to keep the University building on past accomplishments,” he said at the forum’s end. “Let’s stay ambitious.”

Additional faculty on the search committee are Christopher Drew Armstrong, history of art and architecture; George Bandik, chemistry; Mazviita Chirimuuta, director of graduate studies in history and philosophy of science; Randall Halle, chair of German and director of the film studies program; Tao Han, physics and astronomy; Graham Hatfull, Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology and HHMI Professor in biological sciences; and Lara Putnam, chair of history. Other members are Philippa K. Carter, director of diversity initiatives and academic affairs; Victoria Costa, CGS student; Natalie Dall, president of the Student Government Board; and Allison Gremba, PhD candidate in anthropology.

According to DeJong, the search committee plans to hold campus visits with dean finalists by February or early March. He said the new dean should be announced by early April and is expected to take office by July.

—Marty Levine 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 5

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