UCF’s College of Arts and Humanities, which has more than 5,000 students and academic programs in history, philosophy, music, and other fields, is nearing the final stages of selecting a new dean. José Fernández, who has been the college’s dean since 2006, is stepping down.
According to the current College of Arts and Humanities website, the dean “is responsible for the administrative oversight of the college, building new college policies, and developing new programs of excellence. As he [or she] encourages the growth of the new college, he [or she] oversees personnel recruitment and development while handling all inter-college and off-campus relations.”
Three candidates for the position gave public presentations on campus over the past two weeks concerning their visions for the college and their perception of the challenges facing educators working in the arts and humanities. Although these sessions were open to “the campus community,” according to a UCF press release, they were attended almost exclusively by faculty and staff members currently working in the college.
Giovanna Summerfield, the associate dean for educational affairs of the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University, presented on March 31.
“Courses should forge ties between departments to give students and faculty a sense of a social and academic collective to which they can belong,” Summerfield said.
She proposed “cross-disciplinary teaching initiatives that reach beyond our division, beyond the college, for more collaboration across the university.”
Jeffrey Moore, who is currently the director of the UCF School of Performing Arts, gave his presentation on April 7.
“Liberal arts education is the heart of the university, and the arts and humanities comprise its soul,” Moore said, quoting David Skorton, a past president of Cornell University. “If science and technology help us answer the questions of ‘what’ and ‘how,’ the arts and humanities give us ways to confront the intangible, to contemplate the why.”
Thomas Foster, chair of the history department at DePaul University, presented on April 4.
The educators present at each forum seemed to share similar concerns.
“We are looking for a dean who will advocate for our disciplines,” Stella Sung, a pegasus professor and director of the Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment said. “The arts and humanities are kind of falling down the wayside as STEM gets pushed forward … I think it’s systemic all across the nation. We have governors and politicians who are pushing [STEM programs] without really realizing the important role that humanities play.”
Moore mentioned a statement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who said that “in place of liberal arts, I want to spend our dollars getting people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees so when they get out of a school they can get a job.”
Summerfield stressed that she wants to focus on collaboration and communication with those in the STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math — fields to convince them that the humanities are important too.
According to Sung, there are several rounds of applications and interviews before the final hiring decision is made.
“The provost puts together a committee drawn together from a variety of faculty and staff, and we are lead by a dean who is outside of this college,” Sung said. “At first, we did Skype interviews with 12 candidates. Then we did airport interviews … [and] that was narrowed down to eight, and then the final three are chosen from that and invited to campus for an interview. The final process involves us, as the committee, making a recommendation to the provost, but the provost will ultimately choose.”
Moore said that more students should be involved in the process of selecting a new dean.
“Students should care about the process because the leader of the academic organization has an impact on the types of programs and the support of those programs … a dean’s position doesn’t exist but for students. A chair’s position, a professor’s position, they don’t exist but for students. That’s why we’re here … I think it’s important that the students be involved so their perspectives can be shared.”
A student and alumni session meeting, where students of the college may hear from, meet, and question Moore, will be held on Friday, April 8 at 10 a.m. in room 192 of the College of Arts and Humanities building.
Alex Storer is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.