University to begin search for new dean of Arts & Sciences

| Contributing Reporter

More than two months have gone by since Dean James McLeod’s passing, and his position at the University has yet to be filled.

The search for a permanent dean of the College of Arts & Sciences has begun with the appointment of an eight-member search committee and the scheduling of two community forums.

Dean Jim McLeod, who formerly held the position, passed away on Sept. 6 after working for the University for more than 35 years.

Sharon Stahl, dean of the First Year Center, and Wayne Fields, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English, are currently sharing the dean’s duties.

Stahl noted that one key quality the committee is looking for is a strong commitment to excellence.

“[We’re looking for] someone who enjoys both working with students and faculty, someone who appreciates creating opportunities for faculty and students to interact,” she said.

Wolfram Schmidgen, an associate professor of English, is chairing the committee. Other members include Arts & Sciences faculty and administrators and a student representative.

The role of the committee, Schmidgen said, is to identify feasible candidates and recommend one or two to Gary Wihl, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences, hopefully in the spring. The committee will begin by looking at people already part of the University community.

“This is a sort of unusual opportunity for us to actually understand more about where we have come from and how we have wound up in this really good place and to really think about what future direction we want to go in,” Schmidgen said. “That’s what makes it an important moment for Arts & Sciences.”

To aid the community and the committee’s understanding of the process, the committee has scheduled two community forums. The discussions, set for Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 from 3-5 p.m., will be held in January Hall, room 110.

The first community forum, “Where have we been?” will focus on McLeod’s accomplishments as dean of Arts & Sciences. His former colleagues will be giving presentations about his accomplishments to help those in attendance gain a better understanding of how McLeod shaped the undergraduate experience during his tenure as dean.

“Because Jim’s work grew up organically over so many years, it’s not necessarily very easy to understand how he was able to do what he did,” Schmidgen said. “[He] was able to do things…that I think are not easy to understand unless you really look more closely, and that’s what we’re trying to do in this first meeting.”

The second discussion, titled “Where are we going?” will focus on the future of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“[We’re] trying to figure out what the future challenges are for us and what kind of leadership we’re actually in need of in this particular juncture,” Schmidgen said. “We’re trying to look back into the past and learn some lessons about Jim’s work and why it was so effective but then use that knowledge and look forward and try to figure out what the future challenges are.”

A third meeting, to be held in January, will showcase two deans from other universities discussing their views on Washington University and the College of Arts & Sciences. That meeting is still in the planning stages.

Schmidgen stressed that the discussions will help the committee define desired characteristics in potential candidates.

“It’s by no means the case that we have a completely clear coherent picture of what Jim has achieved [and] how he has achieved it, and, for that reason also, we don’t have a very clear picture yet—a very defined picture yet—of who the best candidate for this position will be,” he said.

Stahl stressed that despite some difficulties functioning without its top figure, the College of Arts & Sciences is doing well.

“The challenges have been eased greatly by the wonderful colleagues who are the deans in the College of Arts & Sciences,” she said. “It’s because of the wonderful commitment of all the deans in the college that it’s manageable.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe