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The Scarlet & Black

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Search begins for new Dean of College

Paula Smith. Photograph by Saw Min Maw.

By Stephen Gruber-Miller

The end of this academic year marks the completion of Paula Smith’s term as Dean of the College. David Lopatto, Psychology, has been appointed as Interim Dean following her departure, and the College is now beginning a national search for a new dean who will help lead the College as it deals with academic issues such as expanding the use of technology, finding new assessment methods and making faculty salaries more competitive.

Smith’s five years on the job have included a number of accomplishments, including expanding the Mentored Advance Project (MAP) program, which she helped launch in 1999 as an Associate Dean.

“Something that is great at this stage is that at least half of the MAPs are outside of science,” Smith said. She noted that the program’s broad appeal at Grinnell sets it apart from summer science research programs at other colleges. “Now every department has done MAPs,” she said.

Smith is also proud of the fact that credit is now offered for Prison Program classes, and athletics and academics are more integrated through methods such as having Physical Education faculty teach tutorials.

As Interim Dean, Lopatto said he is interested in continuing to move forward on the College’s strategic plan, but does not yet have a specific plan of action. He recognizes that the College is constantly in flux.

“A bad strategy would be to try to keep everything status quo,” he said.

One contribution Lopatto would like to make is to figure out the College’s relationship to online learning and technology.

President Raynard Kington also sees technology as an area that the College should emphasize.

“We’re really talking about using technology in creative ways to improve the education we provide,” he said.

The College recently received a $250,000 gift from Board of Trustees Chair Clint Korver ’89 and Miriam Rivera intended for innovative teaching and online learning.

Despite this focus on technology, Kington said the College is not planning to join the trend among institutions such as Harvard and Stanford to set up online courses available to the public, called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).

“I don’t think anyone is seriously considering the College becoming a provider of MOOCs,” Kington said. “I think that would not be smart. Lots of great places are already doing that. What we have to do is figure out how we can use all these incredible online resources to help improve our education and there’s a fair amount of it already occurring. I mean, we have a range of ways in which online learning and online resources are already embedded in lots of the courses that we have here. So it’s really about continuing that.”

Smith mentioned that technology is also important to the faculty and is being used in many creative ways already.

“This can be a faculty-driven process where they want to introduce technologies into their classes,” she said.

Online resources can also be used to assess student learning so faculty can more easily adapt to their students.

“Students, parents and families are increasingly demanding evidence of the impact of what we do,” Kington said.

The College is exploring the implementation of ideas such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that seeks to measure student improvement from the beginning to the end of college. It is also considering using writing portfolios for students to supplement other assessment methods currently in use.

These changes, which also include new methods of career development and alumni outreach, are all part of the College’s strategic plan on which the new dean will work.

Conversations about faculty compensation will also continue under the new dean. Faculty salaries have fallen lower than those at peer institutions, prompting concerns among faculty that recruitment of top new faculty will become more difficult. Recent discussions on the College’s financial future also factor in.

“The bottom line is that we’ve known that with our benefits we do pretty well relative to our peers,” Kington said. “With regard to actual salary, we’ve fallen behind some of our peers, so we hope that we will over time be able to catch up in terms of the actual salary, but in order for us to do that we have to deal with these financial problems.”

Instead of returning to teaching next year, Smith will be working on an administrative project to create a risk management plan for the College. The following year, she is due for a sabbatical, during which she hopes to write another novel.

“One of the things that has been tough as Dean of the College is I don’t have time for my own writing,” Smith said. “So I’ve missed teaching and I’ve also missed my own writing.”

There are moments of nostalgia, Smith said, when she listens to other professors talk about their classes. She will resume teaching in the fall of 2015.

When she returns, there will be two fiction professors at Grinnell. Smith is excited that her replacement in the English Department, Dean Bakopoulos, is remaining at the College.

“It’s great that a regular faculty position has been created for him,” she said.

The search for a new dean itself is different than what the College has done in recent history. Rather than selecting the dean from among the faculty, the College will be conducting a nation-wide search.

Kington believes it is time to widen the field of candidates.

“We are a nationally prominent institution,” he said. “I believe that for major leadership positions we should do national searches.”

He mentioned that understanding liberal arts colleges and leadership and management skills are some characteristics he is looking for in the new Dean.

The model for the search is one Kington has used in the past. The College is currently in the final stages of hiring a search firm to help find likely candidates.

Kington has also asked the College’s Executive Council to advise him and assist in the search. The council is made up of the Chair of the Faculty, the three division chairs, and two at-large faculty members.

He says he will largely rely on SGA to represent student interests in the search. “I think it’s odd for us to handpick which students get to provide input,” Kington said. He said that SGA would be asked to select students to help interview candidates.

The first stages of the search process will be confidential, Kington said, because some candidates might not want their candidacies known until they are sure they want the position.

Once the field narrows, candidates will visit campus and there will be opportunities for students and staff to meet them.

Smith is supportive of the search process, saying that it opens up all the possibilities for candidates. She is pleased with her term as dean and said she has tried to work for the students, despite the fact that she is not as visible to campus in her role as dean.

“I really hope that I’ve been serving students all along,” she said.

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