Pending almost certain approval by the University Board of Regents in June, current Interim Dean Terrence McDonald will be appointed to the permanent position of dean of LSA beginning this July. This is welcome good news given the importance of the position, and as far as the student body is concerned, it is good to get any news on matters of this source at all. The events leading up to the appointment of individuals to prominent posts, such as University president, are routinely obscure. The process of selecting the law school dean, another high-profile position, continues to be a secretive affair. A single press release announced the final six candidates for the position.
Impeccable credentials are not sufficient to prove a candidate’s fitness for service to the University’s students, and this is evidenced by the fact that many high-profile positions at the University are most notorious for their roles as launch pads to bright administrative careers elsewhere. This and the lack of transparency in the selection process are symptoms of a more fundamental problem, which is the administration’s drift away from a student-focused agenda. The charges that undergraduate education at the University is compromised in favor of research and that despite high levels of spending on graduate programs, graduate students themselves receive inadequate support and health benefits, are familiar to anyone following campus politics. The task of shifting the focus back to serving students rests upon the new appointees.
Interim Dean McDonald, whose position as LSA dean will directly impact 77 percent of undergraduates, takes the reins of the college at a particularly challenging time. The perennial concerns of budget and financial flexibility loom large as full-fledged crises in the face of state budget cuts. McDonald will have to work hard to ensure that these budget cuts do not erode the quality of undergraduate education. And it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision concerning the use of race conscious admissions policies will force abrupt and major changes in the college’s admissions policies and procedures. McDonald must be an advocate for diversity and must be prepared to find ways of maintaining a diverse student body if the college’s admissions policy is deemed unconstitutional.
In his earlier position as associate dean for academic appointments, McDonald showed skill and a sincere dedication to faculty and to non-tenure faculty in particular, a valuable strength now that the Lecturers Employee Organization has formed.
McDonald has also received much recognition both outside the University and internally for his dedication to undergraduate education, including his appointment as the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. The year’s service as interim LSA dean has given McDonald time to become acquainted with the issues that he will be facing.
When the search for the law school dean has concluded, hopefully the chosen candidate will be as qualified and dedicated to students as McDonald has proven to be. The law school also faces a legal challenge to its admissions policy, and the new dean will have to be as articulate a spokesman for affirmative action as the man who will be replaced, Dean Jeffrey Lehman.
During such a pivotal time for the University, the deans of its most prestigious schools will face great challenges, but these challenges will provide them with equally great opportunities to make tremendous strides for the University and its students.