Few Pitt students attended the open forum for the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ new dean, but those who did said they wanted someone with a focus on inclusion, communication and collaboration.
On Monday afternoon, Pitt held the first open forum targeted at students to gather opinions about what characteristics they want to see in a new dean. After Dean John Cooper announced in June he was stepping down next fall to return to teaching, Pitt began the search for the next dean to take over in the fall 2017 semester.
According to Dean David Dejong, executive vice provost and chair of the search committee, the 12-person committee is still in the first stage of the process: listening to feedback from people around the University. In addition to Monday’s session, the committee is holding a session for College of General Studies students and graduate students on Wednesday and a University-wide session Friday.
“It may not be totally obvious that a dean has a major impact on the life of students … but the dean does a lot to establish excellent working conditions for faculty and staff and sets the compass in terms of what’s important,” Dejong said.
Only three students showed up to Monday’s session — which was marketed on Facebook six hours before it began and through an email from the Dietrich School a few hours before the event.
Those who attended said they wanted a dean that would focus on diversity and inclusion in the classroom, all areas of arts and sciences — including humanities and social sciences — and who would be willing to use the classroom to start discussions about issues such as sexual assault awareness and mental health.
Marcus Robinson, a senior neuroscience and anthropology major and the former president of Rainbow Alliance, asked how the new dean would help make sure the classroom was as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
“A lot of times, professors wouldn’t be as accommodating or understanding of different issues people were going through,” Robinson said in reference to mental health, LGBTQ+ issues and other problems students from marginalized groups often face.
Dejong said diversity has been a frequent request and that the committee plans to look for tangible evidence from candidate’s resumés that show a “commitment” to these values.
Natalie Dall, a member of the search committee and Student Government Board president, said the dean should be available to work with current students on their ideas and initiatives and with incoming students to familiarize them with the University.
Dall said SGB has been considering making changes to the programs available to first-year students. To make the Freshman Program classes more effective, Dall suggested including information about bystander intervention and mental health awareness.
“Having a dean who would be committed to introducing those difficult conversations earlier could help prevent some of those problems before they arise,” Dall said.
In addition to the school’s search committee, the University is working with the search firm Isaacson and Miller. Dejong said the applications will likely be available by mid-November and the deadline for completed applications will be in mid-December. At that point, the committee can start the screening and interviewing process.
By February, Dejong said the committee plans to have a list of six or seven candidates to present to Provost Patricia Beeson. Those candidates will each visit campus for a day and a half, and the list will be made publicly available.
Dejong said the position is open to people within and outside of the University and that Pitt is accepting nominations.
In the meantime, he said the search committee is in a “quiet phase” where members’ main goal is to find out what other people at the University — including undergraduate students — are most concerned with.
“Undergraduates are a huge, huge part of what we’re doing, and we need to make sure that we’re doing the very best we can to justify your faith in us,” Dejong said. “And, like I said in the beginning, the dean has a lot to do with that.”