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Longtime colleagues, the four deans work collaboratively to support faculty and Lafayette
Lafayette’s four academic deans may come from different disciplines, but they are united now in a common purpose to work collaboratively in support of all faculty and look for ways to foster cooperation across academic areas to enhance scholarship, research, and learning opportunities for students.
Longtime colleagues who have known each other in a professional capacity for years, they have worked closely together since 2022 and formed a very tight bond. They meet regularly, often multiple times a week.
As defined, their work provides focused attention and support of individual faculty members, departments, and programs; supports the ongoing development of the faculty as teacher-scholars; advocates for and obtains resources necessary for their success; and ensures a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all faculty members, pre-tenure to full professor.
Working as a team, they also are committed to fostering interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches, strengthening Lafayette’s liberal arts traditions, increasing funding for faculty to attend conferences to support their scholarship, and identifying grant funding opportunities.
Lisa Gabel, professor, William C. ’67 Rappolt and Pamela Scholar in Neurosciences and dean of natural sciences; David Shulman, David M. ’70 and Linda Roth Professor of Sociology and dean of social sciences; Lauren Anderson ’04, James T. Marcus ’50 scholar and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and Williams Jeffers dean of the engineering division; and Ingrid Furniss, dean of the faculty, dean of arts and humanities, and professor of art history, gathered recently to talk about their roles and how they work together to further elevate Lafayette’s stature as a student-centered college.
Academic dean positions might be new to Lafayette, but they’re not a new way of organizing across higher education and colleges.
All four agree that a key advantage exists in having representatives of each division talk to one another, to open more conversations across Lafayette College’s academic disciplines.
“There are sometimes issues within a division that can involve broader interests for all faculty. Because there are a lot of different things going on across campus, one of our roles is to have more people to work on communication and coordination,” Shulman says. “What’s most attractive is the new possibilities we can advance, because now there’s someone in a position to work on those things. I see us working to coordinate, heighten efficiency and having conversations to help faculty advance their ideas.”
These roles were established with the intent to enhance community and encourage collaboration. For example, within the natural sciences, departments and programs have largely been working as independent units, without a great deal of dialogue between them.
“More recently we have been having conversations, discussing areas of concern, and developing plans to solve problems,” Gabel says. “As the dean, I’m able to advocate on behalf of faculty, students, and staff to help advance ideas which we hope will foster a positive working environment and enhance student learning opportunities.”
Since 1957, the Engineering Division has had a director who has played a central role in amplifying and advocating for supporting faculty, staff, and students.
“What is exciting about adding academic deans to the Lafayette structure is the opportunity for us to do this work together,” Anderson notes. “As a group, we want to collaborate with one another to strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones, both on and off campus, to advance the mission of the College.”
For Furniss, communication across the arts and humanities and how they intersect with other areas of study can also be strengthened with the role.
“This role is, for example, really important to the promotion of the arts and facilitating the needs of the arts. One thing that comes to mind is my close partnership with new staff of the Performance Series and the galleries, and our new arts marketing director,” she adds. “I am thrilled to support their amazing work together and in collaboration with students and faculty in the Arts, across the College, and with the community. What a wonderful team!”
Furniss says she looks forward to developing strong partnerships and helping to facilitate the needs of the Arts Campus (downtown and uptown) and humanities.
The four deans are also devoting their energies to supporting the intellectual pursuits of faculty and students.
“If we can bring faculty together and provide them with more support, then we’re trying to give them back some of their time, so they’re not the ones who are trying to pull everything together while they’re also teaching their classes, mentoring students, and also doing their research,” Shulman says.
“Then we can create an even better environment for the students as well,” he adds. “The more that we can do to help faculty, the better it will be for our students overall. We are in a place to also seek that resource needs are met.”
Lafayette faculty play a critical role in the academic success of students; however, they often note that they need more time and resources to create a learning environment that enables students to achieve their goals, Gabel observes.
“The deans can be part of the solution by working on unresolved issues that may otherwise draw the attention of individual faculty away from their work with students, as well as advocate on behalf of our colleagues and to ensure they have the resources they need to successfully support their pedagogical and scholarship goals,” she says. “We are committed to creating an environment that supports faculty and students both within and outside the classroom.”
The ability to truly coordinate across divisions is important, adds Furniss, noting how, for example, art and chemistry is a common pairing for students interested in art preservation.
“There are also natural pairings in social sciences and the arts and humanities, natural sciences and engineering,” she says. “If we organize a lecture or a panel about issues and topics that bring together students from multiple disciplines across the college, such as art students with anthropology and sociology students in a panel on museums or immersive technologies, we can make those connections. We can do a lot of creative things in our positions.”
As successful scholars and educators who clearly enjoy classroom and lab work and research, the deans will still support Lafayette as teachers and researchers.
Anderson, for example, hopes to return to the classroom to teach a first-year engineering course.
“Something that I’ve realized through this role is how much I enjoy supporting students in their first-year,” she says. “Together with the Hanson Center for Inclusive STEM Education, engineering launched a first-year peer mentoring program. Faculty in engineering have been starting conversations about what ES 101 and the first-year curriculum might look like moving forward. So, for me, it’ll be about transitioning away from my research area in biomedical engineering and focusing on programs and initiatives that support student and faculty success.”
Furniss, a music archaeologist, has been involved in a 14-year project examining the transmission of lutes on the “Silk Road” and their association with different forms of marginality in pre-modern Chinese art; she recently submitted her final book manuscript.
“My academic interests are still very important to me and help inform my new role, which I see as an advocacy role in support of the scholarship and teaching of our faculty colleagues,” she says.
Working with students, helping them navigate their research experience and realize their goals, is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a professor, Gabel offers.
“I feel very passionate about continuing my research program with students in my lab,” she says. “I look forward to continuing my research program while still working to support the work of our colleagues and the mission of the College.”
Shulman will teach Introduction to Organizational Studies in the spring.
“I’m trying to still be active, but with the understanding that the primary responsibility is to do the work as one of the academic deans,” he says.
“I think none of us will ever lose the passion for the fields that we love. In our new roles, we’re trying to help other people find ways administratively to keep them doing the kinds of things they are passionate about,” Shulman adds. “We try to support the vision of people for their teaching and their scholarship in all our areas. Part of the reason why we’re doing that is because we still love what we do.”