Wihl will replace Ralph Quatrano, who became the interim dean after Ed Macias was promoted. Macias served as dean for 15 years before becoming the University’s provost last spring. The search for a new Arts & Sciences dean began at the same time.
At Rice University, Wihl is in charge of 12 departments and 150 faculty members. Before serving as dean of humanities at Rice, Wihl worked at Emory University as acting dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
“He has accomplished a great deal as dean of the school of humanities at Rice University,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said. “We believe he will be great addition to the intellectual leaders of Washington University.”
Washington University English professor James Wertsch, who co-chaired the 16-member dean search team with Elzbieta Sklodowska, dean of the Romance Languages department, said that Wihl will bring administrative skill to the College of Arts & Sciences.
“He’s done some very good thinking on how to organize institutions, how to create the university of the future,” Wertsch said. “That means for the curriculum, for fundraising, he’s been a big leader in greater diversity.”
Though Wihl is Caucasian, the committee prioritized diversity when looking at candidates. Wertsch expressed satisfaction with the committee’s consideration of candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and expects Wihl to encourage more academic diversity within his faculty.
“We worked very hard to make sure we had gender and racial diversity in the pool,” Wertsch said. “The committee went through a very transparent and thorough process. The committee still came to the decision that Gary Wihl is the right match for the University.”
In contrast to Macias, who specializes in chemistry, Wihl has taught English and the humanities at McGill University, Emory and Rice. Seeing the need for a wider range of academic disciplines within the higher echelons of the faculty, the committee sought an administrator with a humanities background.
Though Wertsch is an anthropology professor and Sklodowska is a romance languages dean, Wertsch said that their disciplines played no part in their selection, noting that the committee included professors from a range of disciplines.
“There was a feeling around the University that’s it’s probably time to do something different,” Wertsch said. “We’ve had scientists leading ArtSci and the central administration for some time. They’ve taken us to great new levels, but the basic function of a university is to provide education in the humanities as well.”
Wrighton noted that the selection process was indeed a difficult one, given the large number of staff sitting on the committee and the range of candidates applying for the deanship.
“Every selection process has its twists and turns, and we were looking for people with high intellectual ability,” he said.
Wihl will examine the University system before taking any serious actions. According to Wertsch, Wihl is meeting the University staff before deciding upon particular policies to effect.
“He’s good at not naming too many things, but looking around trying to understand things before coming in July,” Wertsch said. “There are not gong to be any drastic changes July 1, I think.”
Wertsch noted that at Rice, Wihl connected between different academic departments in an attempt to bridge disciplinary differences.
“He’s sought to find ways to get the humanities departments into closer contact with science and even medicine,” Wertsch said. “I anticipate that he’d be interested in doing that in the future.”
Tim Bono, who served on the committee as a graduate student adviser, said after speaking with students at Rice that Wihl will be able to improve the quality of education for students here.
“Students at Rice feel that he has been someone who has reached [out] to them and encouraged their own intellectual development,” Bono said. “He’s very personable. He’s someone who is very capable of maintaining care about the students and our welfare.”
Wrighton has high hopes for Wihl, who will be dean of the school of Arts & Sciences as its 10-year plan progresses.
“We hope Dean Wihl will bring [the plan] to closure for Arts & Sciences,” Wrighton said. “This is a plan that will serve us for 10 years. Our hope is that we emerge as a much stronger, higher quality institution.”
Tags: artsci, dean, gary wihl, james wertsch