By SUSAN JONES
The Office of the Provost has launched a national search for a new dean of the Honors College, a position that has traditionally been filled internally.
“The provost feels that the Honors College is growing and maturing. And in order to continue its momentum, it’s important to look broadly for the best candidates to serve as dean,” Lucy Russell, chief of staff in the provost’s office and chair of the search committee, said at an open forum on Nov. 17 seeking input about the position. About 20 people participated in the forum.
Since June 2019, Audrey Murrell, associate dean of the College of Business Administration, has been serving as acting dean of the Honors College. At the time, Provost Ann Cudd said her naming Murrell as acting dean indicated a longer tenure, possibly a couple of years, “and then we’ll see where to go from there, whether to do a national search or what she wants to do.”
Murrell replaced Brian Primack, who left to become dean of the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions. He had been in the position since 2017.
Russell said the search committee will be conducting listening sessions and developing a job description through mid-December. Faculty, students, staff and alumni also can submit comments through the search committee website.
Applicants will be sought through mid-February. The committee will do initial interviews in early March and narrow down the list of finalists. Then in mid-March, the finalists will meet with Honors College constituents, including faculty, staff and students. The final decision will be made by Provost Cudd and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, with approval from the Board of Trustees. Throughout the process, the names of candidates will remain confidential.
Key attributes for a new dean should be communication skills and the ability to form a community, participants at the forum said.
“We need someone who is a very good communicator, both within the college and outside,” said Joel Hurwitz, an alumnus of the Honors College. “I think one of the challenges … is to get the good news out to students in the state of Pennsylvania, to academicians, to graduate schools, as to the fine quality of the Honors College.”
Judy Cameron, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a faculty fellow in the Honors College, echoed that sentiment: “The Honors College is starting to do more and more all the time, but in my mind, they’ve done a lot that’s really important for some time. … But there has not been great communication with even the people on campus. And I think communication is just such a key part of something that’s interdisciplinary like this.”
Ryan Gayman, another Honors College alum, said he’d like to see someone with both academic and outside professional experience, much like that of Chancellor Gallagher, in the role. “The brutal fact is that the majority of young people that are coming through Honors College programming won’t be academics,” Gayman said. “I think it’s good to help that translation of a path from really rigorous intellectual journey at the University to be able to help seed the imagination of what a career can look like outside the academy.”
Pitt alum Ellen Woods, who has held several positions in higher education management at Stanford University, said it would be important for a new dean to attract the participation of faculty across the University.
Other participants said the new dean should be a bold risk-taker and should be allowed to reinvent the program and create a unique Honors College that would be seen as one of the best in the country.
The Pitt Honors College was formally established in 1987 with founding Dean G. Alec Stewart, who some at the forum said was a great model for attributes needed for a new dean.
Juan Manfredi, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, said when the Honors College was being considered, Stewart wrote a paper titled, “The Idea of an Honors College.” In it, Stewart said: “The idea of Honors College is a very American idea, because we give everybody what they need to succeed — somebody may need to travel to Africa to do research, somebody may need to travel to Slippery Rock or something like that. The point is to fulfill the academic needs of the student.”
Mark Strauss, a faculty member in the Psychology department, said he was on the first committee that Stewart formed to help plot out the Honors College. “The key thing that Alec always stressed was he wanted the Honors College to feel like a community,” Strauss said, and any new dean should have the ability to build that community.
The struggle, said Ben Mericli, an Honors College alum who graduated in 2009, is “that striving for maximum inclusiveness while remaining ... small enough to foster community is hard. It’s going to be hard, but I think it needs to happen somehow.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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