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Dean’s Reflections: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Dean Jeff Braden
Dean Jeff Braden

Since moving into the CHASS dean’s office nearly  six years ago — I became interim dean in May 2008 —  issues have come at me with a speed and fury that make reflection and strategic thinking difficult at best. It’s often challenging to think past the end of the day, much less think about strategic direction. So when the provost invited me recently to make a presentation that looked back over my term as dean and also looked to the future, I relished the opportunity.

Here’s some of what I was proud to report:

  • Our college remains first in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded, leads the university in credit hour production, and — despite budget reductions — still boasts the largest faculty on campus.
  • We have become more selective; our undergraduate admission rate of 36% is well below the university average. Our incoming classes are among the best in our college’s history. For example, the class of 2017 boasts a 4.30 high school GPA (on a 5.0 scale) and an average 1211 SAT. More than 40% were in the top 10% of their high school class. Meanwhile, we have improved our four- and six-year graduation rates for undergraduates in our programs.
  • We boast some of the most selective graduate programs on the campus.
  • We continue to enhance our status as a college that not only shares knowledge with students, but also leads in knowledge generation. We’ve doubled our annual research expenditures, from just over $3M to nearly $7M. We’ve established two interdisciplinary research centers, increased doctoral enrollments, and expanded graduate offerings, including a new Ph.D. concentration in sociolinguistics and a new Ph.D. program in Public History.
  • We have recruited nationally recognized faculty to contribute to campus-wide interdisciplinary clusters in genetic engineering and society, digital transformation of education, forensic sciences, and science, technology, and society—while at the same time increasing the diversity of our professoriate.

In short, we’ve done some pretty amazing things despite some challenging economic times—and I’m grateful to the provost for inviting me to take a step back and realize it.

Looking at what lies ahead over the next five years, I believe CHASS will be a major contributor to undergraduate student success. We will do so through high-impact learning experiences such as study abroad, writing-intensive courses and internships, but we will also continue to enhance scholarly excellence by investing in tenure-line faculty and creative, efficient, interdisciplinary work space.

We will also continue to lead the campus in our commitment to a culture of improvement as we reconfigure our resources to achieve our goals. And we will continue to cultivate and develop local and global partnerships to provide our faculty and students with opportunities for engaged research and for the experiences they need to develop their roles as local and global leaders.

I see interdisciplinary scholarship as the most important area for future development. Our disciplines naturally lend themselves to interdisciplinarity. In fact, the humanities and social sciences are essential to discovery and innovation in all disciplines, as any effort to move knowledge out of the lab or the academy inevitably is influenced by—and influences—society. Consequently, our college will be essential to our campus’s preeminence as a doctoral, research extensive university through intellectual leadership in interdisciplinary research, graduate education, and enhancing how the public understands the academy, as well as how academicians understand the public.

Although there are challenges ahead, I look forward with great anticipation to what the future holds for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State University.