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Bonnie Thornton Dill

The dean's report on the state of the college at the Annual Faculty & Staff Convocation held Sept.11, 2012.

The College of Arts and Humanities
Office of Communications
September 11, 2012



Gildenhorn Recital Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

State of the college Address

Advocacy for the Arts and Humanities| Review of the Year| Excellence through Diversity and Inclusion| Interdisciplinary Collaborations and Research| Telling ARHU’s Stories: Annual Report| Telling ARHU Stories: Video Series

The value of stories

THE DEAN: Literary scholar Jonathan Gotschall, in his new book The Storytelling Animal uses insights from biology, psychology and neuroscience to understand, [among other things,]… “how a set of brain circuits force narrative structure on the chaos of our lives."[i]

Stories animate the arts and humanities. As researchers, scholars and artists we unearth and retell the stories of our ancestors; create and perform the stories of our families and cultures; construct and analyze visual, digital, musical and literary tales drawn from our imaginations and events we’ve lived. We teach our students, collectively and individually, various ways to find, tell, critically engage, and create their own stories—and we teach them to use those “storied” skills to expand knowledge and improve the world.   

The College of Arts and Humanities is a vast repository of exciting and compelling stories. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story of my first year as dean has been coming to appreciate the richness of talent, activities and accomplishments encompassed in this college. Convocation also provides an opportunity to hear the range of work being done by new faculty as they enter the institution and gives us a glimpse of how the story of our college is growing and changing.

As staff and faculty, you have continued to achieve excellence in serving our students, alumni, friends and one another even in the face of ongoing and unanticipated budget constraints. Examples abound:  at my invitation staff have come together to begin exploring the pros and cons of forming a staff council for the college that would advise the Dean; graduate students proposed and tested a new way of building online intellectual community; our 24 undergraduate  ambassadors eagerly promote the college to  hundreds of prospective students; and faculty have proposed 35% of the I-courses that will be offered in the new general education curriculum.

Advocacy for the Arts and Humanities

One of my goals this past year has been to find new and effective ways to convey our stories, and to seek opportunities to emphasize the importance of the arts and humanities to the overall mission of the university. Promoting the arts and humanities is an important part of my work especially in a climate where the value of a college education and the practical utility of our majors are sometimes questioned.  

In addition to pointing to the importance of the skills we teach, the training our students receive and the knowledge they gain, I often refer to the findings of  the American Association of College and Universities’  LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) project which demonstrates that the skills we teach are the skills employers seek in the 21st century. [ii]

Beyond the skills argument, I like to remind people that a distinctive strength of the U.S. system of higher education has been the practice of educating all students broadly – teaching the “whole person.” Thus, investments in STEM must be accompanied by investments in the arts and humanities if we are to fully maintain our competitive edge. 

Finally, I find it important to remind people that education in the arts and humanities is essential to maintaining the success of the U.S. democratic project. Given the fractious state of political and civic discourse in our nation today; the anti-intellectualism, questionable ethics, disregard for facts and logic, and inability to engage in empathic listening, it seems apparent that it is an increase in investments in the liberal arts – which includes the arts and humanities - that is sorely needed.

While I eagerly make these and other arguments on our behalf, I also recognize that as scholars, teachers and laborers in the arts and humanities, we must increase our response to contemporary challenges by intensifying our path-breaking efforts in creating innovative approaches to online education and global engagement; expanding opportunities for students to apply their skills and knowledge to the solution of real-world problems; and developing stronger links between the subjects our students study and the careers they may pursue. 

Review of the Year 

Advocacy for the arts and humanities is one part of the story of my first year as dean, tackling the college’s problems is another. Many of you are aware that I found a large budget shortfall in the dean’s office when I arrived. To address that deficit I had to call upon units to tighten their belts and forgo some anticipated revenues. Taking those steps and successfully obtaining additional financial support from the provost has allowed us to put the college in a stronger position this fall. Though we will need to continue to be careful stewards of our money, the deficit in the dean’s office has been eliminated. Department budgets remain in the black and while every unit has suffered considerable loss over the past several years, we are still able to provide strong programs and create new ones.

This year, we’ve hired 20 new faculty, and successfully shepherded 18 candidates through tenure and promotion.  I’m hopeful – given budget projections for the next two years that finances will remain stable. Nevertheless, the comments of the provost, made during a discussion of the university’s budget remain paramount: we must find additional sources of revenue. State support is diminishing and tuition will never fill the gap. As dean, one of my duties is to help identify and develop other sources of income and to build infrastructure in the college that will facilitate research partnerships and grants in support of our overall mission. 

There have also been important leadership and administrative changes in the college this year. I have presided over the transition and hiring of seven new department chairs. I have hired two new associate deans, filled an endowed chair that was suddenly and unexpectedly vacated, and hired the Interim Executive Director for the David C. Driskell center.  It’s been a busy year!

The vision I outlined last fall had three components and I want to report on them today. They were: (1) Achieving Excellence through Diversity; (2) Facilitating Interdisciplinary collaborations; and (3) Supporting Research and Scholarship in the arts and humanities. 

Excellence through Diversity and Inclusion

During the fall semester, I established a task force charged “to reassess and energetically renew the college’s efforts in diversity and inclusion by examining leadership, climate, recruitment, retention, scholarship and curriculum."  I asked them to begin their work by examining quantitative data on diversity in the college. Despite limitations in the kinds of data available and in the measurement of some indicators, the task force was surprised by what they learned.  In their interim report, they wrote:

In the last decade, many of us had come to believe that the College was a leader on campus in terms of diversifying its communities.  Demographic data obtained from the University’s office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment make clear that on only one group, Exempt Staff, does the College even match the University’s racial/ethnic achievement. [with regard to gender, our picture is] the reverse of the rest of the University – more women than men – except among tenure-track faculty, among whom the traditional pattern of more men than women persists. 

In light of these and other findings, the task force is extending its work through this fall, reaching out to units and groups within the college to include them in the analysis and development of an ARHU strategy to enhance diversity and inclusion. I invite your constructive contributions to this process as it continues to unfold.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations and Research

Facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations and supporting research and scholarship are closely linked.  At a retreat of the college leadership last winter, unit heads agreed that top priorities included research partnerships with cultural community institutions and more support for interdisciplinary and engaged scholarship. Encouraged by their mandate and the recommendations of the humanities task force which I appointed last fall, I took several major steps to establish new infrastructure to promote the humanities, increase opportunities for collaborations within and beyond the college, provide assistance for faculty seeking external grants, and also create a mechanism through which the college could engage President Loh’s innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity initiative.

Given the budget deficit in the dean’s office, I sought and received financial support for this plan from the Offices of the Vice President for Research and Vice President for University Relations and then hired an Associate Dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming in the Dean’s office. This associate dean will launch the Forum for the Humanities at Maryland, an incubator for change in the humanities and mechanism for sharing and disseminating new humanistic knowledge and programs. The forum will engage units throughout the college and facilitate partnerships with community and cultural institutions, both online and in real time. This office will also have a staff member, available part-time, to assist faculty in preparing competitive grants. One result is that the dean for academic affairs, who was also hired this summer, will now have more time to develop interdisciplinary collaborations in both graduate and undergraduate education and enhance our efforts in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in our graduate programs.  

Telling ARHU’s Stories: Annual Report

I have also taken steps to make the accomplishments of the college more visible through the production of new communication materials. In addition to sending out a clarion call for information that will maintain the college website’s lively, vibrant, informative and “current” character, we also decided to produce an annual report. The report provides data about the college—from the numbers of faculty, staff and students to the amount of money raised in sponsored research and donor gifts. It highlights some of the exceptional accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students; identifying awards and fellowships, research partnerships, professional recognitions and scholarly and creative projects in which faculty are currently engaged. The report is an additional tool for making the story of our achievements more widely known.  (slide)

The image on the screen is the cover of the report that will go to press this week. It captures the breadth and scope of work in the college; highlighting WORLDWISE – our campaign for the arts and humanities, the Clarice Smith Center series Fortune’s Bones, the Language House and eye-tracking in the department of linguistics and other activities. The report will be emailed to you as soon as it’s available and we look forward to your comments and suggestions for the future.  

This report has been produced by Nicky Everette, the college director of marketing and communications, who took the idea and created the outline, format and accessible content from a mélange of reports and scattered information including compilations from the FAR reports. The graphic design work was done by two students from the Department of Art; April Chairs, May ’12 graduate and Laura Pavlo, Junior. They have worked on this project with passion and enthusiasm and I am deeply grateful for their commitment to produce a document we will share with pride.



Telling ARHU Stories: Video Series

In addition to telling the composite story of the college we have also worked to better communicate our scholarship. While faculty eagerly discuss our research and creative production with colleagues who share our particular interests, people outside our immediate fields often have little appreciation for the problems we seek to understand, how and why we choose them, and what difference the knowledge we produce might make in the world.  In fact – our own undergraduate students – at least those representing each of our units on the Dean’s advisory board, with one exception, referred to the sciences when I asked them to tell me about research in the college.  Addressing this gap is a means of increasing understanding of the arts and humanities and hopefully garnering support.

A discussion of these concerns with members of the ARHU Collegiate Council led to the suggestion that we produce a series of videos of faculty talking about their research.  Thus the series Worldwise: Arts and Humanities Insights was conceived. The Collegiate Council was an active collaborator in the development of this project.  They referred colleagues whom they thought would be willing to participate in this pilot and they helped develop questions that could guide the interviews.  The series of video interviews will be accessible through a website where you can also learn more about each scholar.  We are releasing the first video in the series today and will release a new video each month throughout the academic year.  Today, I want to introduce you to the series, with a brief trailer that I hope will pique your interest and have you eagerly awaiting the link, which will be emailed to you, so that you can watch the first video.  (Show video and slide)

Nicky Everette also oversaw this project which she placed in the talented and capable hands of Brian Crawford of ARHU Academic Technology who directed and produced the video series. The staff that worked on the series included:

Insights Video:

Nicky Everette, ARHU Office of Marketing and Communications, Project Manager and Faculty Interviewer

Brian Crawford, ARHU Academic Technology, Director and Producer

Grant Dickie, ARHU Academic Technology, Web Developer

April Chaires, Department of Art, May ’12 graduate, Graphic Designer

Christopher Perez, American Studies, Ph.D. candidate, Researcher

Shannon Clash, School of Journalism, Sophomore, Researcher

Kelsi Loos, School of Journalism, M.A. candidate, Transcripts

The trailer is narrated by our own Associate Dean, Sheri Parks.

I also want to to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge Donna Carpenter, my assistant who worked to coordinate this event. Sadly, Donna will be leaving us within the next two weeks. She has been an outstanding assistant. I'd like to introduce Ashley Richerson, a coordinator who just joined our office staff. I would also like to acknowledge Heather Rivas, who is not here today, but has worked in the office since 2006. She too will be leaving us at the end of the month to give her full attention to family matters. She will be replaced by Veronica McDougal who will move from her current position at the Driskell Center.

In closing, I want to share a thought. At a workshop for new deans I was told: “if you have a good idea, give it away.” The enthusiasm and creativity with which staff, faculty and students have taken the concerns and ideas I have raised and grown them into something far greater than I could have envisioned makes me grateful and proud to serve as dean of this college. I thank you for your support and for your commitment to the College of Arts and Humanities.  

Now, let’s party!



[i] Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal, preface.

[ii] Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP), Essential Learning Outcomes  Accessed, September 8, 2012