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Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill


The College of Arts and Humanities
Office of Marketing and Communications
September 17, 2013

Gildenhorn Recital Hall, Clarice Smith Center

State of the College Address 

Introduction| Building Community| Finances| Advancing our Common Purpose| Diversity|
Advocacy for the Arts and Humanities: "The Heart of the Matter"


Just two weeks ago at the Clarice Smith Center’s 2013-14 season opener, we had the opportunity to experience the artistry of Harry Belafonte, as one of the narrators of jazz bassist Christian McBride’s four-part suite, The Movement Revisited. The performance culminated the symposium, “Civil War to Civil Rights, the Well-Being of a Nation,” a collaborative partnership between the Center, the College and the Schools of Public Health and Public Policy.  Mr. Belafonte recounted a story of an earlier visit to our campus.  Though I cannot tell the story with the emotion and impact of Mr. Belafonte, I want to share it with you now.

In the mid-1960’s Mr. Belafonte recalled performing in Cole Field house at the University of Maryland in an event that included remarks by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Belafonte commented that there were a number of security guards backstage and one had a very serious demeanor. This guard did not talk with others, smile or in any way engage his fellow officers or the guests but kept a menacing countenance. Later that evening when Mr. Belafonte returned to his accommodations, he was given an envelope that had been left there for him.  The envelope, he noted was odd, and unusually heavy.  When he opened it in his room, six bullets fell out onto the desk.  The note that accompanied them said something like this:  “These bullets are from the chamber of my service revolver.  I have carried them and been trained to use them to kill in an effort to protect. However, after what I heard and saw tonight, I have been transformed.  These bullets will never be in my possession or be used to kill another human being”.     

Mr. Belafonte’s story is a fitting tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; an interesting insight into a possible connection between University history and the history of the nation.  But the element of the story I want to focus on is transformation, specifically the transformative power of ideas and alternative visions.

Transformation is one of the highest aspirations of our educational enterprise.  A stated aim of the College mission is to prepare our students to understand the transformative power of the imagination.  The booklet, Be Worldwise, the Dean’s Lecture Series and research video series encourages members of our community to transform themselves through knowledge, experiences and ideas gleaned from encounters with the values and perspectives of the arts and humanities. 

Transformation was among my goals when I took the position as dean.  While I hold no illusions that changes I might initiate would be as profound as the kind of transformation described by the security officer, I continue to focus on making our accomplishments more widely known and better understood both on campus and off. The Year in Review for 2012-13 is in preparation and will be released later this fall. And, though we will not launch another 8-part faculty video series this year, we are planning to take advantage of an important new video about the arts, humanities and social sciences as a way to showcase the importance of our work. 

From the outset, I have framed my goals as building community and advancing our common purpose.  Since then, I return each fall to give you an update on our progress; to announce new initiatives and to share my perspective on the overall well-being of the college. Today, I want to do just that.

Building Community 

As you know, we’ve faced difficult financial times over the past several years.  Nevertheless, we’ve taken a few important steps.  With the funds we received for merit and COLA for this fiscal year - after five years with neither, and with furloughs - we took deliberate steps to begin to address issues of salary compression. In collaborations between units and the office of the dean we were able to devise strategies and direct resources to make a small dent in this large problem. We know we cannot right the compounded problems of five or more years in one year, but we now have an approach that includes affirmative steps toward improving the situation.

Under the leadership of Laura Nichols (WMST), staff members in the College have been working over the past year to develop a formal staff group that would parallel the Collegiate Council. This group would meet regularly with the dean and help to create a sense of community for ARHU staff, identify opportunities for professional development, create new avenues for communication, and provide a means for staff to become more knowledgeable about and connected with the mission and vision of the College.  


The college budget continues to improve but the process is slow and it does not fully address the major challenges we face, especially when it comes to supporting our instructional load. The underfunding of our college relative to our contributions to undergraduate education is an old story. Over the last five years, ARHU has provided approximately one quarter of all undergraduate credit hours but received far less than its proportionate share of the state budget.   Part of my job is to identify these inequities and fight to overcome them.  And, while I have reason to believe the new provost understands and wants to address this, I don’t expect that it will happen this year. 

On the positive side, the college has made great strides both through sponsored research and gifts.  In the three most recent fiscal years, research award dollars have increased 18.5% thanks largely to the National Foreign Language Center, the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, the Department of Linguistics and MITH.  Our research support activities in the College have increased and we are offering grant-writing workshops and providing consultations in grant preparation. 

Last year, the University closed the Great Expectations capital campaign having raised a record $1 Billion.  ARHU raised over $59 million of that amount and doubled the number of ARHU donors that contributed to the prior campaign.  Our efforts to launch new programs and fulfill our visions are greatly enhanced by our ability to raise external dollars to support them.

Advancing our Common Purpose

Another important way we increase our impact and realize the programs we envision is through partnerships that promote research, scholarly and educational excellence.

I want to highlight a few of our successes.

Arts and Humanities Institute

The Arts and Humanities Institute is in development and will be a dynamic and synergistic locus for interdisciplinary and applied arts and humanities research and scholarship. Through an innovative adaptation of a design school model, the Institute will stimulate, represent, and share the dynamic intellectual enterprise of the College of Arts and Humanities. It will serve as an incubator for change encouraging new initiatives in programmatic development and scholarly excellence. It will provide a transdisciplinary arena for scholars in the arts and humanities to demonstrate the nimbleness and breadth of the college in consideration of and application to the most pressing questions of our time.  As an example, the Baltimore Think-a-thon, held in May in partnership with the UM Carey Law School, was a gathering of artists, scholars and Baltimore community leaders that identified and brainstormed solutions to the city’s most pressing social problems. 

Corcoran Partnership

Closely related is the Integrated Arts initiative in the Visual Arts.  As many of you know, earlier this year the University entered into an agreement to consider a partnership with the Corcoran Gallery and College of Art and Design in Washington D.C.  Throughout the summer, faculty in our departments of Art and Art History along with the directors of Driskell Center and the Art Gallery participated in a task force that engaged in an intensive process of review and due diligence. The report and recommendations will be forthcoming soon.  The outcome will depend on actions to be taken by Corcoran’s Board of Directors and the State Board of Regents.  At this point, President Loh is engaged in discussions with both groups.

This process has brought the strengths, challenges and opportunities involved in building the visual arts to the attention of the campus, and President Loh repeatedly says that a great university must be strong in the arts and humanities, not just in the sciences. He sees this partnership as having the potential to catapult our capacities and stature in this area. 

Regardless of the outcome with the Corcoran, the process has built cross-campus relationships and generated new ideas and energy that can strengthen internal partnerships and promote future collaborations between the visual arts the performing arts, the humanities, architecture, engineering, and the rest of the campus.  For ARHU, this Corcoran initiative has led to awareness of and engagement in the arts and humanities all the way up to the level of the State Board of Regents.

Language Science

Next week, Provost Rankin and VP for Research Patrick O’Shea will formally announce a major initiative in which ARHU plays a key role; the formation of the Maryland Language Science Center (launched September 27, 2013). The Center, led by our linguistics department, is a collaborative effort involving language scientists, drawn from 14 departments and centers in 6 colleges across the university. Its goal is to foster interdisciplinary research and training that will advance a deep understanding of language, promote global engagement and deliver world-class solutions to some of society’s most pressing language problems in education, technology, and health.  Please stay tuned for more details and the full announcement.

Graduate Studies in Interpretation and Translation

Earlier this month, we had a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication of the lab for the new Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation program in the Department of Communication. The official opening of this program with a first cohort of 25 students makes the University of Maryland the first public university in the United States to provide a comprehensive training program for interpreters and translators.  The program, which offers M.P.S. degrees and certificates, is an outgrowth of partnerships with the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund all of whom were represented by their top people in the field at the dedication.  The possibilities for this program, however, were cemented by a donor, Mr. Jack Cassell whose generous gift of state of the art equipment emerged from his belief that giving back to the industry in which he had made his living was “the right thing to do.”

Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative

This fall, we are also excited to launch the Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative funded by Domonique (AMST, ’04) and Ashley Foxworth (English ’06).  As young alumni of color, their support signals a new and important direction in giving to the College.  The Initiative will provide funds for the development of courses that bring students into a collaborative learning and working relationship with members of underrepresented communities on the Maryland campus and in its surrounding environs.  The announcement was sent out yesterday and I hope that those of you interested in creating such a course will go to the information session and submit a proposal.

Whether working in interdisciplinary partnerships or as independent scholars, our faculty continue to garner a number of prestigious national awards as well as important campus recognitions.  While you can learn about these in greater detail on the ARHU website or in the forthcoming Year in Review, I would like to acknowledge a few of them today.  In the past year a number our colleagues have received national awards including a Guggenheim, a Tony nomination, Year-long NEH Awards, along with numerous book awards.   Campus level awards that deserve special recognition are: Professors Robert Levine, who will be honored as a Distinguished University Professor and Marilee Lindemann, who will receive the Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award at the University Convocation on October 8th.  Professor Christina Hanhardt received the Undergraduate Studies Program Teaching Award; the Department of American Studies received the Ethnic Minority Achievement Award as Outstanding Instructional Unit and Professor Lisa Mar received their Outstanding Faculty Award. Professor Sangeeta Ray was awarded Outstanding Director of Graduate Studies and Professors Laura Demaria and Psyche Williams-Forson were named Graduate Faculty Mentors of the Year.  There are numerous other outstanding faculty accomplishments and I’m sure that there are some important awards that I have inadvertently overlooked.  Nevertheless, my goal here is not just to recognize individual colleagues but to demonstrate that accomplishment at the highest levels characterize our community.

You have met our thirteen (13) new faculty and as you can see from the bios in the program, we continue to attract to our campus people with stellar accomplishments and exceptional promise.  The responsibility of those of us who are seasoned faculty is to provide the resources, intellectual climate and mentoring that will permit the talents of our new faculty to bloom and encourage them to remain rooted in University of Maryland soil.  


Linking our efforts to build community with our goals of excellence in education and scholarship is our Diversity Initiative.  Excellence in ARHU depends upon our having a diverse faculty, staff and student body along with an inclusive and supportive environment that nurtures growth and productivity.

In November 2011, I appointed a Diversity Task Force that has since examined available data, both quantitative and qualitative, and held a series of focus groups with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff to assess the College’s current standing as related to diversity and inclusion.  Last spring they presented their report.  Using the data analysis and recommendations of that report, we have prepared an implementation plan.

The plan entitled Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: Task Force Report and College Implementation Plan outlines goals, objectives and actions in accordance with the three goals set forth in the university’s strategic plan for diversity, which focus on policies and structures; climate, and vision. The full Task Force report and College implementation plan will be posted online within the next couple of weeks, but I’d like to give you a few examples of what you will find when you read it:

The first Goal is: The College will provide the leadership and infrastructure needed to create a more diverse and inclusive College population.  The second, The College will create a climate in which diversity; inclusion and equity are valued and realized at both the College and Unit levels.  And the third, The College will develop a vision of diverse academic programs that make diversity and inclusion intentional in teaching and learning across the curriculum. 

Examples of implementation actions are that each member of the Dean’s senior staff  as well as unit heads are tasked with identifying specific actions related to diversity, inclusion and equity to be accomplished as part of their yearly goals.  A second example of an implementation action is for departments to have forward-looking discussions about curriculum, the anticipated make-up of their students and faculty and the relationship between them.

Be on the lookout for the announcement. I encourage you to review the plan carefully and share your ideas for implementation within your unit and within the college.

Finally, a key component of the College’s diversity efforts is our participation in the Advance Program.  ARHU’s Advance professor this year is professor Laura Rosenthal from the English Department. Laura will be working with the dean’s office, the Advance program, and most importantly with our faculty to help facilitate the college’s actions in addressing issues of diversity.  

Advocacy for the Arts and Humanities: "The Heart of the Matter"

Each year I’ve said something about advocacy for the Arts and Humanities because it is a major part of my work and the work of the college.  Our research and scholarship, our exhibitions and creative performances speak well for themselves to those who choose to listen, but increasingly we find that we must devise new ways to be heard over the din of a growing anti-intellectual and utilitarian discourse. 

Recently, debate and discussion about the future of the arts and humanities; it’s viability; it’s importance in this era of big data, technological innovation, and tight job markets increased in intensity after several Republican governors –in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin publically questioned the value of liberal arts instruction. They focused on majors in the arts, humanities and social sciences offered at public colleges and universities and they threatened to defund these programs.[1] As faculty and staff of the flagship university in our state it is important that we are aware of and engaged in this national discourse even as we critique its basic assumptions.  Our University’s mission, “to create and apply knowledge for the benefit of the economy and culture of the State, the region, the nation, and beyond,“[2] requires no less of us.

This year, we’ve chosen to approach our advocacy by engaging in a partnership with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences through dialogue on the report produced by their Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. That report, “The Heart of the Matter,” was created in response to a bipartisan request from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that asked the commission to:  identify “the top actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?”[3]

Our participation in this dialogue will be highlighted through Be Worldwise: The ARHU Dean’s Lecture Series which will feature two members of the commission:  John Lithgow, the actor and Annette Gordon-Reid, professor of law, professor of history and professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.  

The Commission has produced a companion video that frames a conversation that we will continue throughout the year.  I want to close with a brief clip which I hope will inspire you to view the entire video on the college website, read the report, and join us in transforming public discourse on the arts and humanities. 

Thank you for your attention.  Let’s Party!

[2] Mission and Goals Statement, University of Maryland, College Park. Approved by the Board of Regents on February 1, 2006
[3] American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Heart of the Matter. Cambridge Ma: 2013, p 6.