UA appoints two new deans

Maria Beddingfield

Over the years, the University of Alabama has undergone many changes, including the continual phoenix-like demolition and reconstruction of buildings across campus, a consistently growing student population that has doubled since 2008 and an evolving set of faculty and staff who incite and foster change year-round throughout the University.

Part of this ever-changing tide involves the handing of the baton to new leaders and staff members. The School of Law and the School of Social Work will welcome Mark Brandon and Vikki Vandiver as the newly appointed deans of each school, respectively.

Vandiver has been a faculty member of the Portland State University School of Social Work since 1992, and she has served as the associate dean for academic affairs since 2012. She will be succeeding Lucinda Roff, who served as the dean of social work from 1987 to 2000 and has been serving as the interim dean since 2010.

In her time as interim dean, Roff oversaw changes to the School of Social Work that included establishing and improving the online curriculum for both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

“Recently, [the challenge] has been responding to the rapid growth at the University and providing high quality education for everyone,” she said. “We have also implemented a new online MSW program, which students can access while working full-time and not even living in Tuscaloosa. Part of the challenge with that is developing an online education program that meets high quality standards of education.”

Roff said they have tackled most of the kinks regarding online degrees, so the challenges Vandiver will face include reaching out to and being in tune with the Tuscaloosa community, the state of Alabama and the rest of the country on a larger scale.

“I think the challenges ahead focus on social work becoming more global by building ties around the country, nationwide ties will always be a challenge, and understanding what’s going on in Alabama and the needs Alabamians face,” Roff said. “The school has a responsibility of continuously being mindful of the needs within the state and from our profession to improve quality of life of people within the state through what we do as social workers.”

To form these ties, she said, there are certain qualities a successful dean of social work must have, such as the ability to listen carefully, treat others with respect and understand how funding affects programs.

Roff said Vandiver measured up to these expectations.

“I think [Vandiver] has those strong qualities of leadership and integrity that are part of the job,” she said.

The School of Law will also welcome a new dean, Mark Brandon, who specializes in constitutional law and has taught at Vanderbilt University since 2001. Kevin Stack, associate dean for research at Vanderbilt, worked with Brandon and said his gentle manner will help him build connections with the University, its students and alumni.

“He is a great listener, and he has a genuine desire to truly understand other people’s perspectives and points of view. That quality comes across in his scholarship, and also in his daily interactions with students and colleagues at Vanderbilt,” Stack said. “Separately, Mark brings a very wide lens to the study of law. He is part historian, evaluating the way in which law and society interact; part constitutional theorist, examining the fundamental legal norms in our society; and part wise lawyer, attentive to how laws play out in practice.”

Thomas Causby, who is in his second year at the UA School of Law, said he expects Brandon to continue on with the work of the most recent interim deans.

“Dean Randall improved the ranking of our law school, which is really just a byproduct of attracting and expecting the best,” Causby said. “Interim Dean Brewbaker did a great job holding everything together and setting the stage for our new dean to help us continue to constantly improve.”

Brandon begins his appointment on July 1 and Vandiver begins hers on July 15. Both schools have had recent track records of successful hires and satisfaction among students and faculty.

“Like with any other organization, good leadership is vital to the future,” Causby said. “Our school has to have a vision and goals for the future, and we look to the dean to see where we are going, and how we are going to get there.”

(See also “Deans juggle responsibilities, challenges“)