By Tom Ballard
The College hosted a session of open fora last week that allowed the campus community to meet the four candidates for dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). The position became available after former Dean Benjamin Rifkin left after last semester to become provost and vice president for Educational Affairs at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. Since then, John Sisko has been serving as interim dean.
On Monday, Nov. 9, Kate Mehuron, professor and associate dean of Programing at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Mich., visited the College. Mehuron, whose interests include feminist philosophy and social ethics, according to her EMU biography, said that she wants to “give voice” to the liberal arts and that she was attracted to come to the College because of its emphasis on engaged learning.
“Everyone should have an international experience,” Mehuron said, supporting studying abroad. “You never forget the places that you visited… you become a citizen of the world.”
Mehuron placed an emphasis on the role of a dean when she said that it is the dean’s responsibility to be an advocate for the quality of the program. She also called herself a transparent communicator and said that she would like to collaborate closely with faculty chairs.
“The dean has to be an advocate for the school,” Mehuron said. “Every department has to be heard.”
Mehuron said that she was greatly impacted by the movements for social justice during the 1960s and ’70s, such as Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights movement and the rise of feminism.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Jane Wong, a professor of psychology and interim dean at Armstrong State University (ASU) in Savannah, Ga., introduced herself to the College. According to Wong, she helped grow the university’s psychology department from graduating an average of 14 students to graduating 51 students in 2014.
According to her ASU biography, Wong’s areas of academic interests include cognitive behavioral theory and research and clinical neuropsychology.
“You folks are truly dedicated to engaging students,” Wong said. “What you do is what I always wanted to do in higher education.”
As dean, Wong said that she would understand the dynamic roles that the dean plays in a school.
“I think that a good leader has to have the flexibility to play many different roles,” Wong said. Among those roles, Wong noted that the dean has to have the wisdom to know how to approach certain individuals in certain situations.
Wong praised the aspects of general education for being “very important things into becoming well-rounded individuals” and hopes to prepare students to not just become workers, but also job creators and to make the best of their degree from the humanities and social sciences.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, Scott Barclay, professor and department chair of politics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, visited the College. Barclay worked as the program director of the Law and Social Science Program at the National Science Foundation prior to arriving at Drexel, according to his Drexel biography. Barclay said that as dean, he would put emphasis on the importance of adjusting the programs so that they would be able carry graduates into careers and keep them there long after they graduate.
“To me, this is a different time for the humanities and social sciences,” Barclay said. “This is our world… the other disciplines are starting to realize… (a need) to engage with (the humanities).”
Barclay noted how the social sciences are “unique” since they are able to be applied and connected to many different fields such as science and engineering. He praised the College for its current programs in place.
“It seems to me that TCNJ has a real advantage,” Barclay said. “You have a lot of the mechanisms already built in.”
On Friday, Nov. 13, Pamela Barnett, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., met the College community. Barnett said that she was drawn to the College because of its low student-to-faculty ratio and called the College an “excellent hybrid” of being a research and student-based institution.
“You really have this teacher-scholar model,” Barnett said. “I’m very interested in the kind of school that you are.”
As dean of HSS, Barnett said she would be “a passionate advocate” for the humanities and social sciences. Barnett noted that graduates of HSS should not only be concerned about the amount they make in their careers, but also how the humanities helps in the wellbeing of their lives.
“There’s a large TCNJ family and there’s not just people serving four or five years here,” Barnett said.
According to her Trinity biography, prior to working at Trinity College, Barnett was a professor of English and African American studies. Barnett called the College’s Community Engaged Learning program, “essential” in benefiting students’ educations.
“You can’t learn everything from reading a book or talking about it in class,” Barnett said. “I have supported (community engaged learning in) the past… it’s something that I really believe in and it’s something I would like to support.”
Carole Kenner, dean of the School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science and the chair of the HSS Dean Search Committee, said that the search for a new dean of HSS has been going on since this summer.
According to Kenner, the College received nearly 80 applications for the open position. The search committee, which is composed of several faculty members and a student representative from the School of HSS, eventually narrowed the pool down to six candidates, all of whom were invited to the College to have face-to-face interviews with the committee and provost. The eventual four finalists were then invited to visit the College to have all-day interviews with faculty, staff, students, Provost Jacqueline Taylor and President Barbara Gitenstein.
“These finalists were selected based on their interviews… and experience in higher education,” Kenner said. “We also talked to their references to get a sense of the leadership style and interactions with students, faculty and staff. This is a very difficult and painstaking process to ensure that the best candidates are brought to campus for onsite interviews.”
According to Kenner, the committee might reach a decision to fill the role of dean of HSS as soon as December or January.