August 28, 2003

New Leadership Era Begins at Arts School

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The recent interim appointment of G. Peter Lepage, Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was just the beginning of a long list of changes being made to the University’s largest school.

According to Lepage, new faculty hiring is “at rates higher than we have seen in 30 years.” New distribution requirements for incoming freshmen and the completion of White Hall are imminent, while the planning and construction of a new physical sciences building is just on the horizon.

New senior associate dean Harry Shaw has replaced Jonathan Culler, whose term ended this summer. Peter Kahn has temporarily replaced senior associate dean Paul Houston, who will return next semester.

“The transition to the new administration has been quite smooth,” Lepage said. “We have been visiting departments, meeting with alumni and meeting with students.”

One main focus of the new administration is the high number of retirements among professors. Even though the departures might weaken the college faculty, Lepage sees it as a positive.

“We can expect a tremendous infusion of new ideas and energy in our pedagogic and scholarly programs,” he said.

A more noticeable change has been the recent renovation of White Hall. After construction finishes on its entrances and 100-year-old steam pipes, a dedication for the new building will be on Sept. 12 according to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.

In conjunction with the Life Sciences Initiative, plans for a new building slated to be located in the vicinity of Baker Laboratory and Clark Hall are in the works. Martin said the emphasis will be on biological applications.

More recently, new distribution and language requirements have been put in place for this year’s freshmen. In contrast from the original four different course categories, new students are now facing seven areas. Martin said that the revised distribution requirements actually help provide more clarity for students and emphasizes “ways of thinking rather than disciplines.”

In addition, students who pass and attain proficiency on the Cornell Advanced Standing Examination (CASE), will still be required to take at least one additional language course.

“The college’s Educational Policy Committee played a central role in launching the new requirements, and they will be monitoring the impact of these requirements throughout this year and beyond,” Lepage said.

Although the new systems seem less flexible, Tess Brandon ’07 said she actually expected the curriculum to be more stringent in terms of what types of courses students could take.

“You have to understand there are requirements for a liberal [arts] education,” Edvard Gumbs ’07 said.

Lepage has been a member of the Physics department since 1980. He was on the selection committee when it chose University of Chicago’s Robert Fefferman, Louis Block Professor and former Chair of their Mathematics Department. After Fefferman declined the position last summer, Lepage was selected to temporarily serve a one-year term.

Martin said the search for a new dean will begin next month and the committee, like last year, will look within and outside of campus walls for the most-capable candidate.

Lepage said that he has not decided whether to apply for a long-term position. He has temporarily stopped teaching, allowing him to focus on his dean tenure. In reference to the possibility of Lepage applying for the position, Martin said that “he will make up his own mind.”

It seems that so far, Lepage is adjusting well to the new position. According to David DeVries, associate dean for undergraduate education, Lepage is “a quick study” who “really has the interest of students in Arts and Sciences front and center.” DeVries was appointed to his current position in March, replacing 25-year fixture Lynne Abel.

“From my point of view, you wouldn’t be able to tell there’s [been] a huge transition,” Martin said.

Lepage is currently enjoying his term as dean. He said that former Dean Philip E. Lewis and other colleagues were helpful in briefing him and he took the summer break to explore the college.

“It has been fascinating; the quality and variety of our programs are impressive,” Lepage said.

Archived article by Brian Tsao