Dean Williams makes her debut at HCA town hall

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CW / Keely Brewer

Keely Brewer | @keelykbrewer, Mark Aguayo | @calebaguayo1

For Tara Williams, the new dean of the UA Honors College, hobbies aren’t just pastimes; they’re symbols of her leadership style. 

Williams spoke at the Honors College Assembly (HCA) Town Hall Tuesday, March 10 to initiate dialogue with students as she takes on her role as dean of the Honors College. After being selected for the position in late November, she arrived on campus March 1 to begin work. Tuesday’s event was her first official, public event with Honors students. 

During the Town Hall, Williams shared five facts about herself followed by five plans for the Honors College before opening the floor for questions from an audience of about 30 students. 

One of those facts was that Williams has two main hobbies: running and reading. 

“I’m really fast at one of those and really slow at the other,” Williams said. “I’m very bad, actually, as a runner, but it’s been helpful for me to embrace that, to do something that I’m not good at … something that I see other people passing me by.” 

She said she believes this train of thought applies to undergraduates as well, who are continually being asked to explore new things. 

This desire to explore difficult things was similarly the driving force behind her career choice. Williams formerly served as associate dean of the Honors College at Oregon State University (OSU) and has lived in New Jersey, Florida and York, England, but decided to relocate to the Southeast to be closer to family. English was at the crossroads of everything she enjoyed, and Williams became an English professor at OSU, specializing in medieval literature. 

Her two published books, “Inventing Womanhood: Gender and Language in Later Middle English Writing” and “Middle English Marvels: Magic, Spectacle, and Morality in the Fourteenth Century,” represent her pursuit of challenges and unfamiliar ideas. 

Williams said she views an honors college, at its foundation level, as a “home base” to bring students from all disciplines to a single, cohesive community. This transdisciplinary composition led her to leave her post in the English department at OSU behind for a role in the Honors College. 

Reevaluating Honors curriculum, exploring opportunities outside of a classroom setting, and diversity, equity and inclusion issues are Williams’ top priorities.

Before transitioning to the student Q&A portion of the Town Hall, she asked students to answer some of her questions by raising their hands. She gauged the most effective format for delivering news about the Honors College, recruiting tactics and the most valuable assets of the Honors College before proceeding to answer student questions. 

The first student to speak asked Williams to outline both short-term and long-term goals as dean. 

Williams said it would be difficult to classify her goals as short-term and long-term but hopes to increase diversity, offer opportunities for students interested in research or similar deep-learning experiences, and deepen partnerships with other departments and organizations across campus. Her work at OSU, a university with a student population of 30,000, has shown her the challenges posed by a large student body. 

“It’s a pretty sizable college, so I recognize the challenges of that,” Williams said. “But to the point that there are students who may never engage in Honors College, [one goal would be] finding ways to make sure I understand what their perspectives and concerns are and feeling like if students are interested, that there are places for them.”

Another student voiced concerns about the limited number of seats available in some Honors courses and asked Williams if she has a solution to this challenge. 

Over the course of her role as the honors college dean at OSU, Williams said she doubled the number of honors courses offered. After gauging the state of the current curriculum, she said she would evaluate whether a change like this is necessary. She reminded the audience of the resources needed for changes like this. Williams said she would “need time to get a handle on the budget first.”

Following a student question about differences and similarities she has observed between OSU and the University, Williams expressed her excitement about the presence of an honors college that is representative of the entire student body and not disproportionately comprised of specific majors.

The talk left HCA Vice President Paige Loux, a junior majoring in biology, hopeful for the future.

“We are so excited to have Dr. WIlliams with us because she is bringing in all these changes with her, and we’re really excited to see what direction the Honors College goes,” Loux said. 

HCA President Ben Rogers, a senior, viewed the event as a success and said it was beneficial for students to learn about Williams’ plans from her directly. 

“She’s coming at this from an improvement standpoint,” Rogers said. “Our whole purpose of having this event and having her come was just to tell people ‘Hey, there’s been some change, but it’s all for the better.’”

HCA will continue to host at least one town hall per semester. 

For questions that Williams said she was unable to answer until better acclimating to campus, she encouraged students to schedule times to meet with her individually or to contact her at Tara_Williams@ua.edu