The University of Alabama has narrowed its current search for the next dean of the Honors College to three candidates: Claudia Lampman, Keith Gaddie and Tara Williams.
ABOUT THE HONORS COLLEGE
Formed in 2003, the UA Honors College was the brainchild of the University’s then-President Robert Witt, who sought to combat dwindling state education funds with a change in recruitment strategy. The University has since doubled in size and is home to a 60% out-of-state population. For the Honors College, that percentage is even higher, making up over two thirds of the incoming class.
According to a University profile of the Honors College, the 2018 graduating class was the most academically talented group, coming in with an average ACT score of 32 and a beyond-perfect mean GPA. This year, according to institutional data, the college is seeing a decline in enrollment after a steady rise since 2015.
This dip coincides with a recent influx of University-wide leadership changes, including the June departure of Shane Sharpe, the former dean of the Honors College. Sharpe held the position for nine years and is temporarily replaced by interim dean Ken Fridley. Sharpe still works in the Honors College as the director of the Randall Research Scholars Program.
A national firm, Academic Search, is conducting the search for the new dean. This is the same firm that is conducting a search for the new vice president of student life.
“The Dean will outline a vision for continuing the Honors College mission and enhancing the programs that are the hallmark of its nationally recognized undergraduate honors curriculum,” the position description states. “The Dean will work across UA to provide leadership on planning, curricular, and budgetary decisions in a student-centered environment in which one-third of freshman students participate in some type of honors programming. The Dean will also engage with alumni, fellow deans, and other internal and external stakeholders to advance the goals of the Honors College and University.”
The deadline for applications closed on Sept. 2, about two months after Sharpe’s departure. Over the last week, each of the finalists visited campus to deliver a presentation on their professional experience and vision for honors education followed by an open forum.
Claudia Lampman is a psychology professor and the current vice provost for student success at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). She described herself as an applied social psychologist specializing in gender studies and sexual harassment with research focused on barriers to success for university faculty, specifically women and minorities.
Her presentation featured images of students she has mentored throughout her career accompanied with their stories as a testament to the value of an honors education. She highlighted words she associates with honors: inquiry, community engagement, interdisciplinary, inclusive and lifelong.
During her time at UAA, Lampman has partnered with the theatre program to support productions dealing with difficult subject matter, taught an undergraduate course that published a research project at the end of the semester, and collaborated with students outside of the psychology department to research, write and publish work.
Lampman founded the first Ph.D. program at UAA and was integral to the foundation of the university’s Honors College. After being approached by a creative writing professor who sought her help, they collaborated with fellow faculty to introduce an honors program to campus.
Lampman said she believes an honors college has a responsibility to add value not only to students, but to the surrounding campus and community members as well. She emphasized the necessity of providing students with more than just an honors designation upon graduating. According to Lampman, this requires moving away from the traditional honors college model, a trajectory she sees the University following already.
UAA differs from The University of Alabama in both size and composition. She said she would work to understand the campus community as a social scientist, studying its problems and identifying room for improvement. During her limited time on Alabama’s campus, she said that many individuals she interacted with mentioned diversity as a pressing issue.
“It’s important to have what I call ‘difficult dialogues,’” Lampman said. “I want to help people practice standing up for what they believe in.”
Keith Gaddie introduced himself with an image of a 1964 Mustang Convertible displayed on the screen behind him. He reflected on a road trip he took with his father after restoring the car and recalled envisioning his future while staring at the road ahead.
After earning his Ph.D. in political science, Gaddie said he found himself tired of fighting political battles and reconnected with higher education. Keith Gaddie currently serves as the special assistant to the president at the University of Oklahoma, an institution he has worked at since 1996.
“It’s where my heart resides,” said Gaddie. “My position has kept me in touch with this generation, its challenges and desires.”
George Lynn Cross, the longest-serving president of the University of Oklahoma, promoted a philosophy of higher education that Gaddie said he strives to embody: to build a university that the football team could be proud of.
Gaddie’s vision for an honors education emphasizes a personal approach that is public-facing, prioritizes enrichment and encourages “tiered accomplishment.”
He introduced the concept of open education, a movement that saw a rise in popularity through the 1960s and 1970s. This approach places learning in the hands of students rather than instructors, which Gaddie said will help “turn students into creators.”
“I believe in anything that takes bureaucracy off people’s backs,” Gaddie said.
Gaddie envisions a route for students to be involved in research and other programs across campus regardless of their ability to gain admission upon arriving at the University. This includes a guided entry into the Honors College after freshman year for students who weren’t initially accepted on the basis of standardized test scores.
He proposed the adoption of The Crimson Challenge, a model he has seen at other universities that covers the cost of an additional year of college if the student is unable to study abroad, find an internship or conduct research during their time at the University. He highlighted the values of Plan II, a selective honors program at the University of Texas that grants its students an interdisciplinary degree. Gaddie sees building a truly intensive honors program as a way to formally recognize students for surpassing the minimum requirements.
If implemented at The University of Alabama, Gaddie said the selective nature of admission to this program should not be dictated by standardized test scores, as this is a direct impediment to increasing diversity.
“Whether I come here or not, you guys need to try this,” Gaddie told the audience.
Tara Williams has served as associate dean of the honors college at Oregon State University (OSU) since 2013 and is a full-time English professor with a focus in medieval literature.
Given the 15-year history of the UA Honors College, she framed her vision in terms of the next 15 years, focusing on the goals she would accomplish in this timeline.
Williams is active in Honors Education at Research Universities, a biennial conference for educators working with high-achieving students at major research universities. A Southern university has yet to host the conference, and Williams sees this as an opportunity for the University.
Williams’ philosophy focused on a commitment to serving students, faculty, the university and the surrounding community and state. She pointed to community outreach and leadership development programs currently offered on campus, like the Blackburn Institute and University Fellows Experience, as testaments to this philosophy.
Williams said she views an honors college as an incubator where things can be tried out and scaled up to affect the entire campus community, but this doesn’t happen without constant evaluation, innovation and intentional design. She described the honors experience at OSU as holistic, including living-learning communities and social events entirely distinct from the academic aspect of the honors college.
“For this to work, it has to be founded on an inclusive community,” Williams said.
Williams noted the increased impact an honors education can make on diverse student groups. Faculty and students at the OSU honors college collaborated to produce an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statement to integrate into courses. The statement is included on the syllabi of all honors courses, and instructors are encouraged to incorporate it into class dialogue.
She said she believes honors courses should be characterized by a co-directed design that gives students a sense of purpose and provides them with meaningful involvement, multi-level engagement and experiential opportunities that allow students to apply knowledge in a real-world context.
Williams’ vision is to “provide a transformative honors experience for a diverse community of University of Alabama students and national leadership in public honors education.”
After observing Alabama’s campus community firsthand, Williams said she would build a strategic plan grounded in the mission, values and pillars of the University. This plan would highlight opportunities in DEI, research, alumni engagement and fundraising.
Brad Tuggle, the chairman of the search, was unable to give a specific timeline on the next stage of the hiring process, but confidential inquiries can be directed to search consultants Ann Die Hasselmo (Ann.Hasselmo@academic-search.com), Chris Butler (Chris.Butler@academic-search.com) or Jennifer Kooken (Jennifer.Kooken@academic-search.com). Provost Kevin Whitaker will make the final decision on the hire.
Those interested in providing feedback or learning more about each candidate can visit ua.edu/honorsdean with their myBama login. Feedback is due by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2019.