As part of the College of William and Mary’s search for a new dean of arts and sciences, professor Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, currently of Vanderbilt University, spoke to administrators and students at a public forum.
Sharpley-Whiting spoke Monday to a crowd in the Tidewater room of the Sadler Center, emphasizing her objectives for the College if offered the position.
“The most urgent priority now and for the future, which serves as an umbrella priority that will help capitalize on the College’s existing strengths, is quite simple: money,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “If selected as dean, I intend to work tirelessly with the provost, Development Office, alumni and the president in setting fundraising goals for the College, cultivating and matching donors, large and small, corporate and individuals, with the needs, projects and priorities of the College.”
Sharpley-Whiting spoke about her experiences as a tenured professor of French and African American and Diaspora Studies, as well as an administrator at Vanderbilt. She emphasized her understanding of an academic world that many view as rapidly changing.
“We are also at a dangerous crossroads in higher education that demands academic leaders be, like never before, active citizens in public advocacy for private education; that they use their skills and offices, in this case, the dean’s office, as a bully pulpit to promote liberal arts education whenever and wherever possible,” Sharpley-Whiting said.
In response to the College’s current financial situation, Sharpley-Whiting spoke at length about private donors. She specifically emphasized the importance of cultivating relationships between donors and administrators and faculty members alike — as well as targeting individuals of widely varying financial resources.
“I do want to stress that I do not think we need to focus just on wealthy donors,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “That has been the problem with many institutions — they focus so much on the few, large donors that they forget the smaller donors who eventually you can cultivate to become larger donors.”
Voicing concerns shared by many faculty members and administrators alike, one professor spoke about the problems the College faces from its large number of adjunct faculty members.
“One of things that has happened at this university and I think across the country in general, is that in an attempt to save some money, there has been a movement to having more non-tenure-eligible faculty teaching courses,” physics professor William Cook said. “I think the major distinction between non-tenure-and tenure-eligible [professors] is the level of research that is expected.”
In response, Sharpley-Whiting spoke to perceived problems in the faculty hierarchy and began to frame solutions.
“I recognize that [having non-tenure-eligible faculty] is a reality in higher education, unfortunately,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “I am fully committed to sustaining tenure and academic freedom. … But, [faculty put on a reformed, non-tenure track] can move from senior lecturer, to assistant professor, to associate professor, to full professor … You simply do not want itinerant teachers. You want people who are committed to the school and the mission.”
Another faculty member expressed concerns about a long-proposed new complex for the visual and performing arts that has yet to come to fruition.
“Since the mid-1990s when I was an assistant professor, we have been talking about an arts complex, and that discussion seems to always go back into carbon freeze after some little flurry about it,” department chair and professor of music Anne Rasmussen said. “In the spirit of the creative work that we do and we teach about, I would like to hear [Sharpley-Whiting] improvise on that theme.”
Sharpley-Whiting again emphasized the rising importance of private funds for capital projects.
“It seems as if you are going to have to rely on private giving for that project,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “At the same time as you are investing in faculty, money will have to go specifically for that. … It sounds like a really urgent need … and so one would have to look for donors … [and] maybe get some state money, since [Richmond has] been good with bricks and mortar.”