Four new University deans discuss plans for their upcoming terms
The University of Michigan has appointed four new deans in the 2018-19 school year for LSA, the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, Rackham Graduate School and the School of Public Health. With the start of the new school year, the deans say they are prioritizing the interdisciplinary aspects of higher education to continue establishing the University as a nationally ranked institution.
Elizabeth R. Cole, the newly appointed LSA interim dean, has served as LSA’s associate dean for social sciences the last four years. Though she believes former dean Andrew Martin leaves big shoes to fill, she says her experience working under his supervision will make this a smooth transition.
“The biggest task that we’ll have is to continue the regular functions of the college and to pursue the strong initiatives that we’re already working on,” she said.
Primary among these initiatives is LSA’s Opportunity Hub. While its permanent space is rendered temporarily inaccessible by the extensive construction at the Michigan Union, the hub can currently be found on the second floor of the LSA building. The hub will continue its focus on connecting students’ classroom experience with real world experience via internships, alumni mentors and on-campus research.
Cole was one of the team members who developed the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan — which aims to diversify the campus community and create a more inclusive climate — in its beginning stages. She will continue spearheading the third year of DEI initiatives. Her work and research as a professor in women’s studies, psychology and African and Afro-American studies has allowed her to highlight the intersectional nature of the University experience and continue facilitating and supporting the five-year DEI plans developed by each department.
Though the DEI plan has faced criticism for its inability to quickly address several recent racist incidents on campus, Cole plans to build momentum for the DEI plan through projects such as the Comprehensive Studies Program, Summer Bridge Scholars Program, LSA Laptop Loan Program, Passport Scholarships and the Kessler Presidential Scholars program.
In addition to all these initiatives, Cole said it is especially important to highlight the many spaces on Central Campus that allow students, faculty and staff to gain experience in promoting dialogue. She wants to encourage dialogue among people with different experiences with the additional aid of organizations such as the Program on Intergroup Relations as well as We Listen and Our Community Listens.
“At this point in our history, it’s really important for those honest conversations to take place, and I want to make sure everybody’s aware of the opportunities on campus to have those respectful, honest conversations,” Cole said.
Michael J. Solomon, a professor of chemical engineering, has been appointed as the dean of Rackham Graduate School, also holding the title of vice-provost for academic affairs and graduate studies.
For the more than 8,000 Rackham students on campus, Solomon said his primary responsibility is supporting the experience and education of graduate students, in all facets of the University.
“Our goals are a continuation of a need. As society gets more complex, there’s more and more need for this advanced training,” Solomon said. “I would like to catalyse discussions with faculty and students about how we need to organize graduate education on campus to address future needs.”
Though his work as associate dean and vice-provost, Solomon has worked to advance DEI initiatives in Rackham as well as network with graduate school partners on campus. He highlighted that the diversity of graduate education presents certain challenges, but also can be harnessed to benefit education as a whole.
“We really need to grow and sustain the focus on this education as being student-focused, it being inclusive, and the leveraging of values of diversity,” Solomon said. “A challenge is an opportunity.”
Solomon noted one of his favorite aspects about working at Rackham is the ability to work with professionals in different fields that are student-focused and provide opportunities and workshops. An engineer by training, Solomon supports and is exposed to advanced education in a wide variety of fields.
“Everybody is getting the same degree, but how they go about that is just remarkably diverse, and that really is a strength at the University,” he said.
David Gier, newly appointed dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, is currently preparing for his term, which begins in October. Gier graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in music and continued to earn a doctorate degree from Yale University. We started his work in higher education by serving as a professor and director at the University of Iowa School of Music. He said his experience as a University undergrad student motivated him to return.
“My whole professional path was propelled by my experience at the University of Michigan,” Gier said. “The quality of that experience and what it meant to me were really defining, and it set me up for success in the future. So I’ve always had this respect and admiration and love for the University of Michigan. To return is kind of a dream come true.”
Gier’s first order of business is familiarizing himself with the faculty, students and staff. He says he will gauge long term goals and utilize the University’s unique aspects to create collaborative projects with the public and connect students with the professional world.
“The vitality of SMTD comes from the faculty and the students, the plans that they make and the aspirations they have as they go to their work throughout the year,” he said.
Gier finds that the size of SMTD will present certain challenges but also highlights the exciting aspects of working in the arts.
“The way that the arts are constantly evolving and changing, there’s an inherent challenge in that. We have great traditions, but at the same time, for instance, the influence of technology is changing the way that students and the general public and our faculty engage with their art form,” Gier explained. “I think we’re always challenged in the arts to hang on to our roots and to our deep disciplinary traditions while at the same time evolving so as to be totally engaged and relevant.”
F. DuBois Bowman has been appointed the dean of the School of Public Health, his term beginning in October. Currently concluding his work as chairman of the Department of Biostatistics at Columbia University, his appointment at the University will allow him continue his work in the field of public health while bringing him back to his native city and the school at which he earned a master’s degree in biostatistics
“U-M is a school that I have connections with as an alumnus, and being from Ann Arbor, I have deep roots and feel a connection to the city, which also was certainly a factor that drove my interest and decision ultimately to return,” Bowman said.
One of Bowman’s main priorities for the upcoming term is spearheading community engagement and impact in the state of Michigan, targeting public health needs such as infant mortality, asthma, lead exposure and adult obesity.
“I want to make sure that through the great resources of the school, more research and more education, we work to have the strongest and biggest impact that we can in the state of Michigan,” Bowman said.
The School of Pulbic Health is undergoing only its second year of undergraduate education, and Bowman will work to continue to evolve the program and prepare for the first graduating class at the end of the academic year. Additionally, the School of Public Health plans to launch the nation’s first online Master of Public Health degree, which will launch in the fall of 2019.
“One of the things that I really value is interdisciplinary research and education,” Bowman said. “I look forward to partnering with the other deans trying to determine some synergies where we may establish some new programs.”