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2019 State of the College Address

October 02, 2019 College of Arts and Humanities

Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill of the College of Arts and Humanities

Remarks by Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill to students, faculty and staff at the college’s annual convocation.

September 26, 2019, 3:30 PM
Gildenhorn Recital Hall, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center 



The Dean: Good Afternoon. I want to begin by thanking all of the people who’ve made today’s program possible: the Schools of Music and of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies; the staff of The Clarice; and the people in my office —especially my assistant Chant’e Ingram, and Nicky Everette and her staff. 

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Recently, I heard a reference to the work of Peter Block, author of “Community: The Structure of Belonging.”  In that book, Block says: “Each gathering needs to become an example of the future we want to create.” 

Every fall, we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year: the award-winning scholarship and path-breaking creative endeavors of our faculty and students and the ingenuity and dedication of our staff. We welcome newcomers and returnees to re-energize our shared commitment to teaching, research and service for a future that is always changing.


This year, we’ve chosen to highlight philanthropy. If you’re thinking: “What’s philanthropy got to do with it?” The answer is: a lot.

  • As Ashley mentioned earlier, we’re in the midst of “Fearless Ideas: The Campaign for Maryland,” and last year (FY19), the college had its best fundraising year ever. Friends, faculty, students, staff and alumni made this happen: Alumni like Ashley and Domonique; like Charles Hirsch, who supports ARHU scholarships and, like Ashley is a member of the dean’s cabinet. Charles, we’re pleased you are joining us today. Students like Zaria, who boldly shared the meaning of her ARHU story to help new students. And faculty members like Professor Emeriti Cleveland Page, who continues to support the work he loves. Thank you all.

  • We are celebrating because this past year we raised nearly $16 million dollars; $3.5 million more in one year than was raised during the entire seven years for Maryland’s initial Bold Vision Bright Future capital campaign (July 1, 1995- June 30, 2002); 78% of our $70 million goal. Thanks to Laura Brown and her intrepid team for helping us crush our fundraising goals.

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  • We’re highlighting philanthropy because I want you to know that this college is a philanthropic powerhouse on campus, with the second largest endowments after the Clark School of Engineering.   

  • To what do I attribute this success? To the same strengths we exhibit in the arts and humanities daily—we are great communicators, collaborators and visionaries. 


Three years ago the college identified four strategic priorities, and since then I’ve used this address as a way of updating you on our progress. Today, I’ll discuss aspects of the first three goals. The 2018-19 “Year in Review,” available here, provides many more examples.

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Goal 1: Students 

First-year undergraduates in the class of 2023 are exceptionally talented. Some of them have joined us today as part of the ARHU 158 course. Each year we also welcome a number of transfer students who have worked hard at other institutions and are continuing their studies at Maryland. Finally, our departments have actively recruited some of the best graduate students in the country. As a group, you have fearlessly chosen to study what you love. We’re glad you’re here.

Integrated Career Initiative

I introduced curriculum-career integration last year, but this year we’re launching all of the activities in an initiative titled: “Be Worldwise. Get Worldready.” Through purposeful career preparation, professional pathways and regional and alumni partnerships, students are encouraged to connect curriculum, career and community in ways that help them develop skills and knowledge that provide a sound basis for their future. An example is Kian Kelley-Chung. 

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A senior majoring in English, Kian is at the forefront of the department’s new media studies track, learning what it takes to create dynamic content for a range of emerging technology. To prepare, he’s exploring and developing a nuanced appreciation for storytelling through courses in creative writing and film. He’s collaborating with a filmmaker in Baltimore to create “HUMANO,” a fictional VR story that immerses viewers in the experience of migrating from El Salvador to the U.S. After two research trips to Mexico and El Salvador, Kian is using notes from interviews with migrants at different stages of the journey to write the script. This is one of several projects he has underway, all of which began in a classroom. You can learn more about Kian on the ARHU website.

English’s media studies track is an example of how ARHU departments are redesigning academic programs to connect foundational knowledge with professional preparation. Over the past year, and under the leadership of Assistant Dean Audran Downing, we established a career advisory board and hosted strategic planning sessions with departments.This year we’re launching new Professional Pathways including: 

  • A new major in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in the Philosophy Department

  • New minors in 

    • Arts Leadership 

    • Humanities, Health and Medicine

    • Latin American Studies 

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These pathways are supported by Purposeful Career Preparation, which includes personalized advising and programming provided in part by UCC@ ARHU, a collaboration between the University Career Center and ARHU’s Office of Student Affairs. 

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Finally, Alumni and Regional Partnerships distinguish Maryland’s program. You’ve already met alumna Ashley Foxworth ’06 who, with her husband Domonique ’04, are partnering with the college on Foxworth Do Good Internship Scholarships, providing support to students pursuing unpaid internships with organizations assisting underserved communities. And last spring, New York Times best selling author and English alum Jason Reynolds was our keynote speaker at Access2Alumni, the college’s award-winning career mentoring and networking event.

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Drawing on the rich resources of Washington, D.C. and the State of Maryland, we’ve developed exceptional partnerships. Last May, the School of Music’s concert choir performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the result of a longstanding collaboration. 

Our students also continue to win a notable number of national scholarships and awards: ln FY19 ARHU students won 59 national scholarships. We compete successfully for these awards in part because of our emphasis on language learning and our outstanding Arabic and Persian Flagship Programs.

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Thanks to the College of Arts and Humanities, Maryland has again received national recognition for diversity. The publication  Diverse Issues in Higher Education named us among the top five universities conferring African American students bachelor’s degrees in area, ethnic, cultural, gender and group studies, and foreign languages, literatures and linguistics. We were also named among the top five for awarding doctorates to Asian American students in visual and performing arts.

Goal 2: Faculty

Building and supporting a world-class faculty is essential to prepare students to “Be Worldwise and Get Worldready.” Almost 600 tenure and professional track faculty in ARHU are engaged in a broad range of innovative scholarship that bring distinction to the campus and gives students opportunities to work with faculty in the creation of new knowledge. As the American Academy of Arts and Sciences argues: “Scholarly research is an important—perhaps the most important—part of the humanities infrastructure not only because it is critical to the vitality of this field in both educational settings and society at large, but also because scholarship in specific humanities disciplines can have significant bearing on national and international issues.” — Humanities Indicators

Diverse and Inclusive Research Portfolio

For example, Robyn Muncy, historian and expert on 20th century progressive social movements, co-curated the “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote” exhibition currently on display at the National Archives Museum. The exhibit marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote—or did it? Professor Muncy’s research helps visitors recognize that the fight for voting rights has been uneven with the skirmishes of the past informing the struggles for voting rights today.

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Maintain and Strengthen Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Artistic Creativity

One indicator of the strength of the research infrastructure in ARHU are five active Mellon Foundation grants, led or co-led by ARHU faculty.

  • The African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities project received a second grant, which adds new faculty and trains graduate students and post-docs.

  • The Open Islamic Texts Initiative will build  infrastructure for digital recognition of Arabic and Persian scripts providing tools to make obscure literary texts available worldwide.  

  • Documenting the Now also received a second grant to develop tools and practices that support the ethical collection, use and preservation of social media and web archives.

  • Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade is creating a unique online data hub that will change the way scholars and the public engage African slavery.

  • The Humane Metrics for Humanities and Social Sciences (Humetrics HSS) is developing new values-based methods for assessing the nature and quality of HSS scholarship.  

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Faculty and programmatic achievements are additional indicators: 

  • Gerard Passannante received both a Guggenheim Fellowship and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship to support research on how contemporary ideas about scale, have roots in ancient and early modern arguments about the order of the universe. 

  • Two ARHU-affiliated albums were nominated for Grammys. Hugo Keesing was nominated for best historical album and the National Orchestral Institute was featured on an album nominated for best orchestral performance. 

  • Elizabeth Toth, professor of communication, received a Lifetime Achievement award in Public Relations Education.

  • Professor of Theatre Scot Reese was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.

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The accomplishments of our current faculty stand upon a foundation of excellence established by our predecessors. Three pioneering faculty are being memorialized on campus this fall.

  • Virginia Walcott Beauchamp joined the Maryland faculty in the 1960s and taught in the English department until her retirement in 1990. She helped found the women’s studies program at the university and served as its first coordinator. She was among the first academics to devote their careers to the study of women’s history and literature. In 2003, she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

  • Stanley Plumley, distinguished university professor of English, served nine years as Maryland poet laureate. He was the author of 11 volumes of poetry. He was a finalist for the National Book Award, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and won the prestigious Pushcart Prize for Poetry eight times.

  • Chris Vadala was a distinguished scholar-teacher, director of Jazz Studies and professor of saxophone in the School of Music. He appeared on more than 100 recordings,  performing and recording with such greats as Diana Ross, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Frankie Valli and Kendrick Lamar. He held performing credits on five gold and two platinum albums, won two Grammys, two Emmys and one Golden Globe Award. 

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Goal 3: Impact 

Telling our stories, making our accomplishments and their impact visible is our third strategic goal.  

Enhance Communications Strategies

Last year we launched the college’s new website and produced a series of compelling feature stories that distill arts and humanities research for public audiences. This year we’re extending this technology, and our storytelling, to academic units through a phased website deployment process. If you visited the ARHU site or read Maryland Today, you learned about Cy Keener, assistant professor of art. 

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Professor Keener, a trained artist and architect, is interested in how technology, art and the environment intersect. He recently installed his work tracking Arctic ice melt at the VisArts gallery in Rockville, Maryland. This installation was a product of his Alaskan expedition to visually document the thinning ice through sensors tracking its thickness daily. He transformed the data into an art installation, hanging strips of 6-foot-long, blue-green polyester film to reflect ice depth.   

Demonstrate the Value of Impact of Arts and Humanities Research  

ARHU’s range of research, scholarship and creative works is setting the agenda for transformative dialogues about the impact of the arts and humanities in the world.  

For example, Linda Aldoory has a subcontract with the CDC and the Prince George’s County Health Department to develop and implement health messaging for underserved communities; Clare Lyons has an NEH fellowship for a book that examines changing ideas about sexuality and gender in the 1900’s English-speaking world; In Damien Pfister's “Interpreting Strategic Discourse” class, students coded and created a database of approximately 3,000 Facebook ads planted by the Russian Internet Research Agency. And, Jessica Enoch received a 2019 Elevate Fellowship to redesign English 101 to better explore issues of diversity, inclusion, community outreach and social justice.

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As part of the campus’s Civic Maryland initiative, the Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series will present Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and co-founder of Supermajority, on December 5.

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Grow Partnerships Regionally, Nationally and Globally

Partnerships and collaborations expand scholarship and innovation in the arts and humanities.

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  • A $1 million pledge from the American Institute of Physics (AIP) has established an endowed professorship in the history of natural sciences that will help uncover stories of scientific discovery while illuminating complex societal issues.  

  • A $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, will allow Kenneth Elpus, associate professor of music, to study the relationship between K-12 arts education and student success in higher education.

  • The National Foreign Language Center is creating a research-based professional development program for world language teachers with a $656,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Professor of Theatre Daniel Conway represented the U.S. at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space with his innovative set design for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s "Macbeth."

  • With support from the VPR, and in partnership with CMNS, we’ll host a campus summit in the spring to explore applications of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s report on integrating the humanities and arts with STEM. 


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So, what does philanthropy have to do with it? During my tenure as dean, I’ve learned that philanthropy is about collaborating to deliver on the promise of an arts and humanities education that inspires the imagination, creates dynamic new intersections with other fields and establishes the University of Maryland as a cultural leader. And that’s a lot!

Thank you all for coming out today.  We will close with the sounds of Chris Vadala.