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Bonnie Thornton Dill, Dean

September 8, 2016, 3:30 PM
Gildenhorn Recital Hall, The Clarice Smith Center


4:20  p.m.


THE DEAN: Good Afternoon. Thank you to The Clarice for hosting us; to the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and the School of Music for helping plan the performances you’ve seen today; and the staff of the dean’s office (Chanel, Nicky and Dina) for planning this year’s convocation.

Each fall we call the members of the college together to launch the new year. And each year I make some comment about being the last thing between you and a party. So this year, we decided to start the party before the program, leaving me with the unenviable task of giving a speech in the middle of a party!   

In addition to thanking our hosts and my staff, I want to thank you—my colleagues in ARHU! It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your dean for the past five years, to promote this college, the work of its world-class faculty, the efforts of its dedicated staff, and the accomplishments of its outstanding students. I am pleased to begin a {new five-year term} and look forward to working together to raise recognition and support for our work.   


I welcome you back to campus in the midst of one of the most unusual election seasons in my memory; [SLIDE 2] one in which issues of inequality, immigration, policing, white supremacy, ethnocentrism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, ableism and sexism among others, assault us daily.  

As someone who came of age during the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, the disruptions of the Peace Movement and the iconoclasm of the Women’s Rights Movement, today feels eerily familiar—both scary and hopeful; shadowed by threats yet filled with opportunities.  

As a nation, some of our greatest opportunities have emerged when we have been challenged to reaffirm our constitutional ideals. And our best outcomes, sometimes late, and often in the face of massive resistance, have extended the unalienable rights we champion to a more inclusive citizenry.

The humanities and the arts are crucial to this process. [SLIDE 3] As Harvard University Professor Danielle Allen argues in a recent National Endowment for the Humanities magazine article, the declaration of independence relies on the people to assess the principles and values that help secure democracy; and the arts and humanities provide necessary intellectual resources. As students and scholars in the arts and humanities you learn to construct and follow an argument; to distinguish fact from fiction; to understand and analyze issues from the perspective of others; to work collaboratively and across different social and cultural contexts; to write well, communicate clearly and do so in visual, auditory, literary and embodied forms.

A current application of these intellectual resources is exemplified in the campus-wide initiative, “Democracy Then and Now” [SLIDE 4] organized by our Department of English and Center for Literary and Comparative Studies, and led by Professor Kim Coles. It launched this week with the hashtags: #dtnumd and  #UMDpolitics, and connects ARHU with other colleges, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, and faculty across campus in exploring the central role of public education in the development of American democracy. I encourage you to visit for a full listing of the provocative lectures and guest speakers that will provide context for the issues being discussed in the lead up to the election.

The college [SLIDE 5] will participate in this series by sponsoring award-winning poet Claudia Rankine, author of the book “Citizen: An American Lyric” for its first WORLDWISE: Arts & Humanities Dean’s Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 5:30 p.m. right here in The Clarice. There will also be classroom discussions on topics such as the history of ancient elections, 2016 political ad campaigns, the contributions of women in American politics, and the significance of political campaign music.


In the arts and humanities, we discover new knowledge by creating new readings of familiar texts, visualizing people, objects or issues in new ways, unearthing new insights about how children learn language and developing new approaches to improve student writing. We explore how knowledge of human history and culture inform the present and envision the future. As a college, we have done all of these things quite successfully over the past five years, and as I transition into my new term, I will share some of our accomplishments.

Research and Scholarship

As a college, our record of individual awards, honors and fellowships, in addition to external proposals submitted and grants received is strong. [SLIDE 6] This year, Associate Professor Hasan Elahi (Art) and Professor Emerita Carla Peterson (English) received Guggenheim Fellowships. Both Antoine Borrut and Alejandro Cañeque (History) were elected to the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Professors Meredith Gill (Art History and Archaeology) and Neil Fraistat (English and MITH) are co-directing the symposium, “Art History in Digital Dimensions,” which is funded by the Getty and Samuel H. Kress Foundations. And, Professor Janelle Wong (American Studies and Asian American Studies) received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation as part of a multi-campus team studying Asian American public opinion. Kudos to these and other faculty for their increased efforts to achieve awards and obtain external grants. My office will continue to facilitate and promote these activities. [SLIDE 7] I take personal pride in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for African American History and Culture and the Digital Humanities. It is the first large Mellon Foundation grant given through its Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities Program, received by this university. The new project director for this grant, Assistant Professor Catherine Knight Steele, has just joined our faculty in the Department of Communication and will begin connecting with many of you this fall to invite your engagement in the project.  

Diversity and Inclusion

Our efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion in both our curriculum, and in the recruitment and retention of our faculty, staff and students, is ongoing. [SLIDE 8] We offer almost 50% of the diversity courses for the university’s general education curriculum, and in the last five years we have hired 19 new faculty of color, 12 of whom are underrepresented minorities. This year we are one of six colleges participating in the inclusive hiring pilot program sponsored by ADVANCE and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.


We are also a leader in promoting and encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations across the college and the campus. I’m happy to announce that ARHU’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies has been approved and will begin this fall. Directed by Professor Matthew Kirschenbaum and co-sponsored by MITH and the Department of English, this program aims to attract graduate students throughout the college working in any area of digital media, culture or identity—from the critical study of issues raised by our online world to the use of new digital tools to transform traditional areas of scholarship. For undergraduates, we look forward to the approval of a recently proposed major in immersive media and design. Associate Professor Audra Buck-Coleman and colleagues in the Art department have worked with faculty in computer science to construct this exciting cross-disciplinary learning opportunity, which will hopefully launch next year.

On the research side, we have helped build the Maryland Language Science Center, led by Professor Colin Phillips from the Linguistics department. The center includes 200 researchers from 17 academic units across the campus. [SLIDE 9] This summer under the direction of Professor Maria Polinsky, who was recently named a fellow in the Linguistic Society of America, the center launched the Guatemala Field Station to study Mayan language and culture, and to work with the community on topics related to health and child development.

Community Engagement

Another way we have successfully addressed our land-grant mission in the past five years has been through community engagement activities. [SLIDE 10] The Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative, which launched in 2013 with a gift from alums Domonique ’04 and Ashley ’06 Foxworth, championed the arts and humanities as effective tools for innovation and community collaboration. Over three years the program involved 12 faculty members from six departments in 11 courses that impacted over 200 university students and another 200 high school students working through a dozen community partners. One of the final courses this year produced an exhibition at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore; the result of a collaboration between a team of Maryland graphic design students and high school students from Augusta Fells Savage Institute for Visual Arts in West Baltimore. “B’More than the Story” gave these Baltimore youth a way to share their perspectives on the events surrounding the 2015 uprising, sparked by the death of Freddie Gray.

All of these courses were reinforced by a number of other college activities focused on the role of the arts and humanities in addressing social issues and community development in Baltimore and in College Park. [SLIDE 11] Especially noteworthy is the “Baltimore Stories” project, a joint initiative of ARHU’s Center for Synergy and Maryland Humanities, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

Student and Faculty Accolades

Over these five years, you—our students and faculty have continued to set records. [SLIDE 12] We had 49 National Scholarship recipients last year. Maryland is first in the nation in the number of Boren and Critical Language Fellowships received. Much of the credit for that goes to our outstanding Language Flagship programs in Arabic and Persian, ably led by faculty directors Valerie Anishchenkova and Nahal Akbari from the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. [SLIDE 13] Our faculty have also continued to achieve important campus awards. Professor Neil Fraistat will receive the Kirwan Faculty Research and Scholarship Award at the campus convocation on September 14 along with three faculty members who were named Distinguished University Professors: Arthur Ekstein in History, Steven Mansbach in Art History and Archaeology and Mary Helen Washington in English. I also want to note that two members of our faculty received inaugural Provost’s Excellence awards for Professional Track Faculty;  in research, Aneta Georgievska-Shine (Department of Art History and Archaeology), and in teaching, Alvin Mayes (School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies). The list of accomplishments is extensive; more information will be provided in the soon to be published Year in Review and on the college website.

Undergraduate Recruitment and Retention

Another major focus of the dean’s office in collaboration with all of the departments has been recruitment and retention of undergraduate students. While we have not yet seen the increase in majors we are seeking, the numbers have begun to stabilize; we are pleased to offer a 10:1 student-faculty ratio and are proud that our retention rates continue to improve.

Shared Governance

I have been gratified to preside over the expansion of our mechanisms for self governance. In particular, I refer to the establishment of a Staff Council, now chaired by Lorenzo Evans, III from The Clarice, and a full revision of the college’s plan of organization to incorporate professional track faculty. Now that the college has completed its plan, departments will undertake similar revisions in their own plans in the upcoming year.

Together, we’ve accomplished a lot over the last five years, and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.   


There are five things that I’d like to highlight briefly as I begin my second term: strategic planning, the campus-wide capital campaign, our partnership with the Phillips Collection, efforts to support more fully our staff and professional track faculty, and the president’s Greater College Park initiative.

Strategic Planning

Last spring we began a college-wide strategic planning process with conversations about our ideal visions for the college. This fall we hope to complete the process by aligning some of those visions with specific issues, goals and strategies that can be refined into a plan to guide us in the future. Your participation—as students, as staff and as faculty—will make this process meaningful and successful. It is the first college-wide strategic planning process that has been undertaken in many, many years.

Capital Campaign

The college’s new strategic plan will provide guidance to our development efforts as the campus launches its newest capital campaign. In this era when financing for public higher education is diminishing, the role of the dean in development and fundraising is growing. [SLIDE 14] We will have to look more toward gifts from alumni, family, friends, and for grants from foundations, government agencies and private sources to support the mission and goals of the college. I’m especially pleased to inform you that yesterday the Department of English announced a gift from a faculty member, Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and English Professor Linda Kauffman and husband David Gray. Through a bequest, they’ve established the Linda Kauffman Endowed Scholarship for English majors and the Linda Kauffman Endowed Dissertation Summer Research Award. Both the need-based undergraduate scholarships and the summer research award for doctoral students have the aim of ensuring that financial challenges do not prevent talented students from pursuing their higher education goals.

The Phillips Collection Partnership

[SLIDE 15] The Phillips Collection is an exceptional museum of modern and contemporary art in downtown Washington DC. This year, we will begin to experience more fully, the benefits of this recent partnership.

Two post-doctoral fellows have been selected to be in residence at the newly established University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at the Phillips Collection. One is a new position in virtual culture awarded to Maryland alum, Nicole Riesenberger ’16.

The Department of Art is co-curating the 2016-17 “Conversations with Artists Series,”  which will focus on artists who collect objects, materials and experiences as part of their creative processes and works.

The School of Music is presenting three events with the collection this fall, a visiting lecturer and two concertsone at the Phillips and a second here at The Clarice. The on-campus concert features Derek Bermel’s “Migration Series,” a concerto for Jazz Band commissioned by Wynton Marsalis. It will be performed in conjunction with The Phillips Collection’s exhibition “The Migration Series” by artist Jacob Lawrence. Students in at least one section of ARHU 158, who are studying migration, will visit and have a special tour of the exhibition.

Please take advantage of your free admission by visiting the Phillips, and refer to the center website for additional programming.

Staff and Professional Track Faculty

The campus and the college are challenged this year to find better ways to compensate some of our staff and professional track faculty. This spring the U.S. Department of Labor issued new pay regulations under the Federal Labor Standards Act that will affect non-exempt employees, beginning December 1. Campus leadership is developing its approach to handling the required changes, and they will be announced early this fall.

As a college, we have a large number of professional track faculty who, as instructors, are exempt from FLSA regulations but have salaries that need adjustment. As part of our overall approach to addressing the needs of all of our faculty, I have appointed a special subcommittee of the college’s PTK Task Force, chaired by Professor Amanda Bailey. That task force will examine salaries in the college, identify compensation and financing goals and make recommendations early in the spring semester.

“Greater College Park”

Perhaps you saw the video or read about it in President Loh’s welcome letter. One of the ways he has operationalized the imperative of our land-grant mission to serve the people of our state, is a plan to enhance College Park. [SLIDE 16] Dubbed “Greater College Park,” it includes the hotel and Innovation District on Baltimore Avenue; Terrapin Row replacing many of the apartments known as the Knox Boxes; College Park Academy, a charter school currently serving grades 6-10; and a subsidy for faculty and staff who purchase a primary residence in College Park, among other things. The arts and humanities play a critical role in this transformation. This coming spring we look forward to the opening of the MilkBoy+Art House, curated by The Clarice in partnership with the private food and entertainment group, MilkBoy. It is located on the west side of the avenue. On the east side, behind the hotel, a large food, art and innovation hall will provide creative space for students, faculty and community members. There are even preliminary conversations about a proposed art gallery and open storage facility joint with the Phillips.


In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that based on the information I’ve shared with you today, the state of our college is strong. We are weathering the intermittent storms and squalls generated by those who seek career certainty in other fields. Yet, I dare to believe that the tide is turning. [SLIDE 17] Our 2015 graduates had a placement rate of 95%, up 2% from 2014. Increasingly, popular media is publishing articles favorable to the arts and humanities, with titles like: “80% of employers think every student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts” (Libby & Art - tweet 7/13/16), or “Why America’s Business Majors are in Desperate Need of a Liberal Arts Education” (the, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket.” Though this more positive press will not generate immediate shifts, our work over the past five years has positioned our college to better tell our stories, to have them heard, to create and shape new partnerships and to champion our value.

[SLIDE 18] I expect the next five years to be as enjoyable and challenging as the first. I am proud to proclaim that “IAmARHU,” and look forward to your continued support.

Now, let’s party! (Music)