The last time the College of Arts and Sciences held a general meeting for all faculty was nearly 20 years ago, when geography professor Stephen Birdsall was dean.
Birdsall served as dean from 1991 to 1997 (the first year as acting dean before being permanently appointed), and this year marks his 50th year of teaching at Carolina. He dug up notes from the last facultywide meeting, held in April 1997.
“We recognized special faculty accomplishments and honored the achievements that we all shared as a collective community in the College,” Birdsall said. “I also talked about how citizenship has its obligations and must be reviewed repeatedly.”
Kevin Guskiewicz, who in a few weeks will mark his first full year as dean of the College, renewed that tradition with an all-faculty meeting Dec. 8 in the Genome Sciences Building auditorium. Guskiewicz told the audience that Birdsall was dean when he was hired as a Carolina faculty member in 1995. “Thank you for signing that letter,” he said.
Guskiewicz has been on a “listening and learning tour” in the past year, “meeting with faculty and department chairs and traveling all over the country and abroad to meet with passionate Carolina alumni” as he strives to fulfill his promise of being “strategic, bold and student-focused.”
He started the meeting with a “360 Review,” highlighting some key accomplishments in the College as well as an overview of the visionary strategic planning process the school has embarked on this year.
He shared a snapshot of major campus events, an update on how Carolina continues to do well in college rankings, and good news about graduation rates (in 2015 Carolina graduated 83.7 percent of students in four years).
Guskiewicz also shared information on diversity efforts, including a new super course being team-taught by Jennifer Ho (English), Frank Baumgartner (political science) and Sharon Holland (American studies) in the spring that is filled to capacity. The College will be encouraging more team-taught, interdisciplinary courses; a call for proposals earlier in the fall will result in six to eight new courses across the major divisions beginning in 2017-2018.
Andrew Perrin, professor of sociology and chair of the Curriculum Revision Working Group, discussed the process of updating the General Education curriculum. The current “Making Connections” curriculum was put in place in 2006. The new curriculum is set to launch in fall 2019.
“We’ve been asked to reimagine what a great General Education curriculum should look like for a global public research university and to understand how we can tailor that to the needs of Carolina graduates as employees, citizens and intellectually curious people,” Perrin said.
Guskiewicz also introduced members of the College Think Tank — a group of strategic thinkers made up of alumni, business/community leaders and entrepreneurs — who are advising him and the Arts and Sciences leadership team on how to develop a curriculum that reflects the College’s new mission, vision and values and best prepares graduates for meaningful lives.
Guskiewicz asked Frank Bruni ‘86, a columnist for The New York Times who writes frequently about the role of colleges and universities, “What advice would you give to our faculty about ensuring a college experience for our students that will be a ‘differentiator’ or ‘game-changer’ for them?”
Bruni said the College should ensure that students learn about empathy, perspective and skepticism during their time in Chapel Hill.
“If students come away with an appreciation for those three things, I think it prevents them from being insular in a way too many Americans are. I think it tugs them outside of their comfort zones,” he said. “You must create an academic and campus culture that forces students to interact with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.”
Birdsall, this time experiencing the faculty meeting as an audience member rather than the one in front of the microphone, said the dean and his team did “an excellent job of illustrating the benefits and reasons for strategic planning.” Academic departments are now engaged in their own strategic planning exercises.
“The scale of the College is much larger than when I was dean, and what Kevin and the senior associate deans have done is to make it clear that a collaborative approach is the way to move forward in a constructive way,” he said.
Mark Peifer, Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Biology, started at UNC when Birdsall was dean. He said it’s been a long time since all the faculty got together.
“It is an amazing place and being reminded of that and that we’re all working together toward a common goal is important.”
By Kim Spurr