Incoming College Dean Ian Baucom sets out vision

Baucom highlights interdisciplinary learning, faculty hiring, global education

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Ian Baucom (above) will join the University as dean of the College on July 1.


The University announced Wednesday the appointment of Duke Prof. Ian Baucom as the next dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Baucom currently serves as an English professor at Duke University and as the president of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, a group of more than 150 humanities centers from 24 countries. CHCI encourages cross-disciplinary study of the humanities.

Baucom said the University has a unique opportunity to stake out a place for the liberal arts within the broader American higher education landscape, due to its historic founding, strategic planning efforts, current reputation and substantial faculty turnover.

“All of those things combine to set U.Va. and to set the College in an incredibly unique place [to find the] balance between civic life, … democracy and the place of higher education,” Baucom said.

While Baucom outlined his broad priorities for his tenure as dean, he emphasized the need to meet with and listen to stakeholder groups, including faculty, the College Foundation, fellow administrators and students.

“So much of what I need to do and want to do when I first get to Grounds [is] to ensure that I’m really informed by and participating in conversations,” Baucom said. “While there are very broad areas that I understand to be a priority, … the most particular thing I need to do is listen.”

Higher education in context

Baucom said the changing landscape of higher education was due to both a rapid increase in research output and a slowly-fading interest in the importance of a liberal arts education.

“From about the moment of the signing of the GI bill … there was a broad unspoken consensus about the place of higher education in the civic life of higher education,” Baucom said. “The opportunity to pursue a liberal arts education was embedded in the goals of a free and democratic society.”

The value of the liberal arts has slowly waned, from the perspective of both the public and political leaders, Baucom said. Four-year college funding declined more than 20 percent per student between 1991 and 2011 in Virginia, according to a report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Reform Commission in 2013, with higher education, generally, decreasing as a percentage of the state budget during that time.

“[The University’s task is] to
forge that new consensus
and to pioneer these
new knowledge fields.”

Baucom said the 2008-09 financial crisis caused a particularly steep decrease in support for a liberal arts education.

“That consensus has gradually been disrupted,” Baucom said. “There’s just less of a shared understanding.”

Another positive trend, however, has created additional demand for higher education, Baucom said.

“Very much coincident with those developments have been a series of astonishing and exciting new developments … in research,” Baucom said. Data utilization, hard sciences and other fields, he said, have all contributed to this research boom.

Baucom said the College, and the University more broadly, have the opportunity to pioneer new fields and reinvigorate excitement about higher education and its place in society.

“[The University’s task is] to forge that new consensus and to pioneer these new knowledge fields,” Baucom said.

Baucom said the University’s once-in-a-generation opportunity to hire around 200 new faculty members was an important place to achieve tangible outcomes for these broader goals.

Hiring and engaging faculty

Baucom said faculty hiring involved gathering faculty input, improving cross-disciplinary research and keeping course offerings in mind.

“To be thinking collectively with the faculty about this really generational opportunity to pursue this significant and robust round of hiring, … that’s an ongoing project,” Baucom said. “My sense is that it is already significantly underway.”

Baucom, who has led conversations through CHCI about interdisciplinary work in the humanities on a global scale, also serves as director of Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, an interdisciplinary humanities institute that hosts working groups and encourages faculty and student cross-disciplinary study. Baucom said encouraging interdisciplinary study, both through current faculty and the faculty hiring process, is among his key priorities.

“There is no strong
interdisciplinarity
without disciplinarity.”

“[I want to both support] the work of faculty at the University and [find] faculty whose own research combines multiple fields,” Baucom said.

Increasing such collaboration, Baucom said, involves finding individual faculty members who work across disciplines, encouraging faculty in related fields to form partnerships, and bringing together researchers from further-flung fields. He offered collaboration between neuroscientists and those who study philosophy of the mind as an example of interdisciplinary work.

“There is no strong interdisciplinarity without disciplinarity,” Baucom said.

Baucom said faculty hiring should also be tied explicitly to the College’s curriculum review. Faculty must be available to teach the new and innovative courses the College wants to make available to students.

“I’m most excited about the opportunity to meet … students,” Baucom said. “I love teaching, I love research. … I love what liberal arts education can contribute to students.”

The University’s Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures has already begun this work, creating partnerships with schools across the world. The Global Humanities Initiative has partnered with Nanjing University in China, Delhi University in India, as well as both Oxford and the University of London in the United Kingdom.

Global strategy and student diversity

Baucom, who called from South Africa for the interview and was heading to Hong Kong in the near future, said he hoped to push the University beyond its growing ties with East Asia and improve ties in Africa, India and Latin America.

“One of the areas which I’m also particularly interested [in] is how to strengthen relationships and curricular offering with universities, scholars, students [in] Africa, Latin America and the Indian subcontinent,” Baucom said.

Outgoing College Dean Meredith Woo has helped the College craft partnerships with Universities across China and set-up a University-run study abroad program in China, an accomplishment she touted in her recent book discussing her experience as dean.

Baucom, personally, has a background in African studies and hopes to increase the University’s course offerings, global partnerships and faculty expertise in areas outside of Europe, the United States and East Asia. He may, however, have to bring in many of these faculty from outside the University.

“Really paying very strong
attention to ensuring and
expanding diversity and
addressing the need for
student access [is a priority].”

The politics department is not offering a single course about Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America or India next semester, and the history department is offering only two undergraduate courses on each of those regions next semester — though it is offering seven on East Asia and more than 20 on Europe. Baucom specifically listed “globalization of the curriculum” as a goal for his tenure as dean.

Hand-in-hand with this strategy is an effort to increase diversity among both students and faculty. Baucom wants to focus on increasing the “cosmopolitanism” of life on Grounds.

“Really paying very strong attention to ensuring and expanding diversity and addressing the need for student access [is a priority],” Baucom said.

Financial priorities

Baucom said increasing student financial access is necessary to increase student diversity, so he aims to make the effort a priority during his tenure.

“What I want to do is foreground both issues of access … and questions of the diversity of the student body and the faculty and curricular offerings,” Baucom said.

Baucom hesitated to weigh in on the current AccessUVa debate, beyond prioritizing student access.

“There’s much that I have to learn,” Baucom said. “I don’t have at this point a best first strategy.”

Baucom said increasing financial aid for students and increasing faculty salaries, a goal University President Teresa Sullivan has emphasized, did not need to be mutually exclusive, despite the University’s budget limitations.

“I don’t have a sense that it needs to be either or,” Baucom said. “If you begin with the conviction that planning for the College and University begins with a shared vision [and] if core to that vision is a sense of excitement and possibility of this moment, … my sense is that there is … excitement that can be generated from all of these pieces.”

Baucom said he hopes to do a great deal of successful fundraising in order to accomplish both financial priorities.

“The task of the dean … is to ensure that there is a very strong sense of fundamental linkage between those and pursue them in concert with each other,” Baucom said.

Addressing the moment together

Baucom said the long-term goal of the College is rediscovering the role of the liberal arts in civic life, and various stakeholders must think with this end goal in mind.

“[I want] to be sure that there’s an ever-increasing strong culture of faculty governance,” Baucom said, “a shared vision that comes from the faculty and deep partnership and collaboration with the dean.”

Baucom repeatedly said he wants to engage the College Foundation, administrators, faculty members and students, among others, to meet these goals and create priorities.

“For any strategic thinking and planning to succeed, it really has to be a collaborative venture,” Baucom said.

Given the goal of carving out a place for a liberal arts education and the increasing output of universities, Baucom said he looks forward to leveraging the University’s reputation and historic standing to confront the broad challenge institutions of higher education face.

“I am tremendously excited by the opportunity,” Baucom said.


Published April 30, 2014 in News





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