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Dean must focus on faculty value

MONEY. Some call it the root of all evil, but in the College of Arts and Sciences it has become a vital issue in the quest for a new dean. The faculty overwhelmingly has declared that the new dean of the College must be able to raise a significant amount of cash for the College's capital campaign.

Clearly the College is lacking in funds, as the state of Cabell Hall proves, but the faculty is misguided if it thinks money alone will solve the problem. Extra funds will do no good if the College's dean lacks the proper priorities.

To build a successful College, we need good facilities, good administration, but most importantly good faculty. The first two are luxuries in comparison to the importance of the third - after all, in Jefferson's time professors taught out of their homes and the faculty was the administration. But without high-quality professors, a college might as well be an extension of high school.

Good faculty doesn't mean more faculty; nor fewer faculty for many already-stressed departments in the College. Short of a sudden decision to stop building a new Darden add-on and put all the money toward the College, there still will be fewer professorships available than desired. Thus former College Dean Melvin P. Leffler's replacement not only needs to know how to raise money, but how to get the most bang for his buck.

Our new dean must not be fooled by a long list of published material from tenure tracks-to-be. A good curriculum vitae is important to keep the University faculty high-profile, but isn't the be all, end all of a professor's accomplishments. That professor will have students, and students aren't just readers - they are live bodies with active minds (and open wallets) who appreciate carrying on a conversation, not just sitting through a lecture. Just because a professor has an impressive curriculum vitae doesn't mean he or she will inspire young minds and encourage students to learn - some of these high-priced, well-read marvels rarely inspire a trip to class.

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  • A college's first responsibility is to students - those it will be sending out into the world and, if money is so important, to get jobs and funnel some of that wealth back to the alma mater they remember so fondly. Looking back, students won't reminisce about the days of giant lectures, huge wait lists and non-responsive professors. Alums won't sigh in fond remembrance of that professor who rushed students in and out of the office during the one hour not spent scraping to publish, or the professor who liked to hear himself talk too much to listen to his students for a change.

    Instead, our alum will remember the first professor who treated him like he had something to say, who listened to the sound of the expansion of a suddenly-eager mind. These students will speak toward the strengths of a University just as strongly as esoteric statistics do, and the talking will be done through results, not to a select group of snobbish academics who pretend that rankings actually matter.

    Sure, prospective students look at stats, but they pay more attention to horror stories about class sizes, the friend's friend who almost failed a class because the professor didn't e-mail her back, and the glowing recommendation their recently-graduated neighbor gave about the amazing psychology professor he had third year. A premium put on high rankings bought with professors long in the curriculum vitae but short on teaching will soon rid the University of its number one client: talented students.

    Our new dean will face the tough job of finding professors who live up to all of the above. A strong capital campaign will help him or her, but managing a department as large and diverse as the College cannot be accomplished with a smile and a handshake. Our new dean will have to learn to balance tricky egos - perhaps his or her own included - and learn not to take faculty in-fighting personally. A truly excellent dean will value graduate students as much as undergraduates, and will listen to the students when they clearly demonstrate how much they love (or hate) a professor. He or she will have to fight the temptation to spend exorbitantly on new administrative posts. Most importantly, he or she will rule with a fair hand, objective mind and clear eye toward the future of the department.

    The College needs money - badly - simply to keep up the salaries of the professors it has now. Maintenance is not enough, however - a thorough overhaul of the priorities of the department is in order as soon as possible, before valuable assets and lessons are lost. The faculty is correct in its assertion that fundraising will be a large part of the new dean's job, but almost anyone can raise money. More important will be the new dean's ability to see the Rotunda through the trees and the quality through the price tag.

    (Emily Harding's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at eharding