Final Dean of Arts and Sciences Candidate, Jeffrey Shoulson, speaks at Brandeis

April 20, 2018

Jeffrey Shoulson, the final candidate for the Dean of Arts and Sciences position, spoke to faculty, administrators and students in Usdan’s International Lounge on Thursday, April 19. Shoulson described his career in education and took questions from audience members.

Shoulson is a professor and interim vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at the University of Connecticut. He has a background in English literature, with a PhD from Yale University in the subject. Shoulson was introduced by Jané Kondev (PHYS), the chair of the search committee for a new Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Shoulson described his work as the intersection between English literature and Judaic studies, referencing his books about the English poet John Milton and about the forced and voluntary conversions of Jewish people in early modern England. He described how his work lead him to focus on historically underrepresented minorities and how to examine knowledge through their eyes, saying that his work would fit well with Brandeis’ identity as a school of inclusion which gives the underrepresented a voice.

Shoulson also emphasized that his work at the University of Miami as director of undergraduate studies and at the University of Connecticut focused on creating interdisciplinary relationships between departments. He also expressed that though his focus is in the arts, he has worked very closely with the 60 institutes for science at the University of Connecticut and is hoping to support the science faculty at Brandeis.

Shoulson then took questions from the audience. In response to a question on diversity and inclusion from Judith Jaffe, the director of institutional research, Shoulson emphasized his interest in analyzing data on hiring and retaining trends at Brandeis and looking closely at implicit bias in hiring processes.

On hiring, Shoulson also discussed the likely “significant turnover in the faculty” over the next 5-10 years. Shoulson said he would be active in the new hiring processes and searches in different departments.

In response to a question on his status as an external candidate, Shoulson said his being an outside hire was a “mixed-bag,” with the benefits of a fresh perspective but the drawbacks of a lack of information on Brandeis.

“I fully acknowledge that if I were to become the dean I would have a lot of learning to do and a lot of listening to do,” Shoulson said. “I would hope that I could listen with I wouldn’t say an objective ear but at least a different perspective.”

Shoulson said he would like to better understand several Brandeis processes, including how faculty gets tenure and how donors contribute to individual departments. On both points, he said he would look to the faculty for guidance.

Sabine von Mering (GRALL/WGS/ENVS) asked about possible “weeding” that may come to faculty governance. “[President] Ron [Liebowitz] has been saying repeatedly that we have for too long let a thousand flowers bloom and we haven’t done any weeding…It’s also clear to many of us that there may well be a reason why he would prefer to bring a dean from the outside to help with the weeding. At the same time we are working on a task force to review our governance structures…What’s your stance on faculty governance and do you have…an idea on what weeding could look like and how it could be done in a way that would satisfy all of us?”

Shoulson responded by clarifying that he would not be a “bulldozer,” and that any decisions on faculty governance would have a clearly communicated reason. “This should not be an opaque process,” Shoulson said. He did say that Brandeis, as a smaller institution, cannot do everything, and that some things need to be prioritized over others.

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