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2018 State of the College Address

September 24, 2018


Remarks by Dean Thornton Dill to students, faculty and staff at the college’s annual convocation.

September 13, 2018, 3:30 PM
Gildenhorn Recital Hall, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center


4:30  PM


THE DEAN: Thanks Julie. In place of the annual faculty service award, I’m taking a special moment to honor a faculty member who served this college and campus passionately and selflessly for over 40 years until his passing on June 5, 2018. Distinguished University Professor Ira Berlin, the influential historian known for his scholarship on the history of slavery and freedom in the U.S., served as dean of undergraduate studies and dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. He co-directed the David C. Driskell Center, led the establishment of the College Park Scholars program and the design of our general education curriculum. I worked closely with Ira over the past several years on the renaming of Maryland Stadium, the launch of the Center for Global Migration Studies and the establishment of Frederick Douglass Square. Ira’s dedication to his scholarship led him to address legacies of bondage and freedom in our state, from the role of enslaved people in the construction of the College Park campus to honoring the life and work of Frederick Douglass, whom he termed “the most important Marylander who ever lived.” Thanks to Professor Berlin’s persistence and determination, we have a dedicated space to remind us of the transformative power of freedom, justice, education and struggle. It’s a statue that we can be proud of. During my time as Dean, Ira would come to my office with one bold idea after another and I’d do my best to help move them forward. I jokingly began to say to people: “I staff Ira Berlin.” The truth is, I learned a lot by doing that. And I, along with many others on this campus, miss him dearly. For more extensive descriptions of his life and work, I refer you to the obituaries in the NY Times, Washington Post and on the college website. A memorial is being planned for Saturday, November 17 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 


With that brief tribute and example of exceptional campus service, welcome. I’m pleased to see both new and familiar faces here today, and look forward to starting the 2018-19 school year together. Special thanks to the Schools of Music and of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies for helping plan the performances for this program; and as always to the staffs of my office and The Clarice for planning and implementing this year’s convocation.


Today we observe our annual rite of fall, celebrating the hope and anticipation that characterizes the start of each new academic year and reflecting upon the outstanding work of our community. In this State of the Campus address, I’ll share a few of the exciting accomplishments that are helping move our strategic agenda forward. First, however, I want to address the elephant in the room: the inexcusable loss of the life of student-athlete Jordan McNair; the damaging and disturbing national press reports about his death and an alleged toxic culture for student-athletes; the resignation of the recently appointed Interim Chief Diversity Officer; major staff turnover in the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct; and a campus community grappling with the divisiveness and discord pervading the nation. I’m eager to hear and understand how members of our community are processing and feeling about recent events. How would you like to see our community grow and change in response to these challenges?   

In seeking answers to this question, I need to hear from you. Last year, our theme for the Dean’s Lecture Series was Courageous Conversations: ARHU Responds to Hate and Bias. This year, the Dean’s Lecture Series will address another set of issues that require courageous conversations: Immigration. Therefore, it’s fitting that we engage in ongoing courageous conversations within and about our own community.

To facilitate that process, I’m taking the following steps:

  1. I’m abbreviating my remarks today to have time to begin to hear from you.

  1. The staff council is planning a breakfast conversation with the Dean on September 19 to discuss this address, challenges facing our campus and other concerns. Additional staff forums will be held throughout the year.

  1. The college will make available an online suggestion form where ARHU students will be able to share experiences with the Dean on an ongoing basis. I’ll also work with my student advisory boards to design a student open forum this fall.  

  1. The college’s administrative council–assistant and associate deans, chairs and directors–have expressed a desire to develop a faculty open forum. I’ll ask the Collegiate Council to join them in organizing a fall event that continues the conversation I hope we will begin today.

My hope is that these initial steps will promote deeper engagement, enhanced understanding and build community.

I always look forward to the beginning of the school year because, despite the challenges, the opportunities to start afresh and apply prior learning to new situations engenders hope and excitement. Today, we celebrate award-winning scholarship and path-breaking creative endeavors of our faculty and students, and we recognize their many contributions to academe and the public sphere. In doing so, we acknowledge that despite a national decline in humanities enrollments, we’re growing and adapting; preparing to meet the challenges before us with the same creativity and nimbleness that characterizes our college. The “2017-18 Year in Review is available online next week and provides many examples.


Increasing Enrollments and Integrated Career Initiative

Over the past several years, our college and academic units have worked to grow enrollments of first-year students in ARHU. This fall with the support of the Provost and the Office of Admissions, we achieved a 78% increase in the number of freshmen, bringing us to a total of 194. 

We’re excited to welcome these students into our college, a number of whom are here today as part of their ARHU 158 course. This course is designed to acquaint entering majors with the approaches of scholarship in the arts and humanities, while empowering them to develop skills for academic success. For all of our entering students (freshmen, transfers and graduate students), I hope your first couple of weeks have been positive and exciting and have affirmed your decision to study at Maryland. We’re pleased that you’re here and know that you’re talented and accomplished. You’re also fearless; fearless because you’ve chosen to pursue your academic interests and passions, knowing they can provide opportunities for both intellectual growth and career readiness.    

To address the latter goal, the college is developing an Integrated Career Initiative, led by Assistant Dean Audran Downing. The initiative will coordinate all of the the college’s career related activities, including: strategic career preparation; career-curriculum infusion, regional partnerships and networks, and professional pathways.

In the professional pathways program, graduate students are offered experiences that facilitate exploration of a wide variety of careers for humanists and artists with advanced degrees.

For undergraduates, the  program offers several new academic partnerships and career focused opportunities. New programs in the final stages of preparation include:

Minors in:

  • Non-profit leadership (with the School of Public Policy)
  • Medical & health humanities (with the College of Computer, Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the School of Public Health)
  • Arts Leadership (sponsored by our own departments of ARTT, MUSC, TDPS, ARTH, and Creative Writing)

Two new majors in:

  • Immersive Media and Design (CMNS)
  • Philosophy, Politics and Economics (BSOS)

Finally, we will offer a: +1 master’s degree of Business (Smith School)

The Integrated Career Initiative addresses our strategic goal of producing graduates whose knowledge and skills prepare them to lead their fields and equip them for local and global citizenship.


Diversity is embedded in all of our strategic goals and this year there are some significant accomplishments.

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ranked UMD as a top ten minority degree producer in six broad areas in the arts and humanities: “visual and performing arts; area, ethnic, cultural, gender and group studies.” It also ranked the university among the top 10 in graduating “African American or Black students with bachelor’s degrees in foreign languages, literatures and linguistics.”

Our commitment to diversity has always stressed the value of a diverse curriculum. A recent article in the magazine Insight into Diversity highlighted our accomplishments in classrooms and among the faculty.

Entitled “Modernizing the Humanities,” the article praises our thoughtful strategy to enhance diversity and concludes: “If the humanities are to endure, this type of deliberate approach will be necessary to ensure a field that is welcoming and inclusive of all individuals and groups as well as one that prepares students to do the same.”

In the past year we’ve achieved important successes in recruitment and retention of Underrepresented Minority Faculty. Among African Americans we made significant hires and retentions in six fields, a small yet significant step in our efforts to rebuild the number of African American faculty to its peak of the late 1990s. Also since 2012, we’ve increased the number of Hispanic/Latinx scholars in the college by 54%, resulting in an overall increase of 150% since 1997. In addition, we’re gradually increasing the number of women in several predominantly male fields.  

Although progress is slow and we’ve lost some tenured URM faculty through retirements and resignations, our success in making early-career hires is building and renewing the field of African American studies, strengthening our work in ethnic and area studies, and infusing diversity and difference into the intellectual and programmatic DNA of the campus.

Impact Of Arts And Humanities

Telling our story, making our accomplishments visible to one another, our peers and our entire campus community and beyond is our third strategic goal and we are addressing this in several important ways.  

This academic year, ARHU in conjunction with the Office of International Affairs, is leading the campus-wide Year of Immigration. Every unit in this college has a wealth of knowledge and insight to offer on this subject. Immigration has profoundly shaped American life and the movement of people across borders is a central topic of global concern today. The Dean’s Lecture Series is organized around this theme and will be kicked off on Tuesday, October 23 with a talk by Viet Nguyen, the author of the First Year Book, “The Refugees.” Our first-year students are reading the book and I hope you will too. ARHU is also collaborating with the A. James Clark School of Engineering and the College of Education to plan Social Justice Day, a campus-wide activity sponsored by the Provost’s office. This year it too will focus on Immigration and it will be held in April.

The impact of the arts and humanities is apparent throughout the "2017-18 Year In Review.” Reading it, you’ll learn about Distinguished University Professor Emeritus David Driskell’s election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; about Professors Chris Gekker in Music and Peter Carruthers in Philosophy being named Distinguished University Professors, and Professor of English, Merle Collins, a Distinguished Scholar Teacher. In addition, two alumni–one in art and the other in poetry–won Guggenheim Awards.

The range and breadth of research and scholarship being conducted by faculty, students and alumni is impressive. Subjects include: theater & playwriting workshops on free speech and creativity; an award-winning book on the Educational Journey of Mexican Americans; an NIH funded study of communication strategies for cancer prevention among underserved African-Americans; development of linguistic algorithms that process natural human speech; and applications of Virtual Reality technology to Opera.

Our colleagues’ work spans the globe and crosses historical eras, from examining issues about Islam and the Muslim World to mapping the languages spoken by displaced people in Guatemala, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Syria.

Finally, we learn about partnerships and programs such as a fusion of hip-hop and classical music featured at The Kennedy Center, called “Classically Dope” and the upcoming national convening of African Americanists and digital humanists funded through the Mellon Foundation AADHum project.   

The most powerful new tool we’ll use to illustrate the impact of the arts and humanities will be our transformed ARHU website that will launch by the end of the month. We’ve modernized the site to capture and illustrate the dynamism and breadth of the college, and optimized it for mobile, tablet and desktop audiences of all abilities. We aim to present content that inspires a sense of community and attracts interest from prospective students; scholarly, cultural and business communities; and potential donors.


Our scholarship and teaching illuminate values inherent in the arts and humanities: creativity, empathy, questioning, global understanding, ethical action, history, diversity and meaning. These are values that prepare our students to Be Worldwise. They also provide a guide for building community; understanding and negotiating the divisive and unsettling times facing the world, our nation and this very campus. So now, I want to end my remarks and open the floor for a broader conversation. What are your thoughts about the campus today, and how might we draw on the values of the arts and humanities to promote constructive dialogue?