Brandeis welcomes new Dean of Arts and Sciences

September 7, 2018

Brandeis welcomed new Dean of Arts and Sciences Dorothy L. Hodgson, who replaced previous Dean Susan Birren (BIOL) and began her term on Aug. 20. Hodgson is a professor of anthropology and was previously the senior associate dean for academic affairs for the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University before coming to Brandeis. At Rutgers, she oversaw over 5,000 students as well as a majority of the faculty.

Hodgson received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia before getting her master’s and PhD in anthropology at the University of Michigan.

According to a Brandeis press release, Hodgson will now oversee around 4,500 students and more than 400 faculty members. She will also lead undergraduate admissions, curriculum for both the undergraduate and graduate schools and academic departments, with a large focus on the new general education requirements set for the incoming class of 2023.

One of the largest tasks that will be undertaken by Hodgson will be finalizing and implementing the new general education curriculum, which will affect the incoming students next fall. There are a few aspects of the new curriculum that Hodgson is particularly excited about.

“A new requirement will be critical conversational classes for first-years, which models engaged debate about ideas while being able to listen and learn from other perspectives,” said Hodgson. There will also be an increased focus on health and wellness, with more emphasis on the wellness part. Hodgson explained in an interview that these topics will include how to deal with high levels of anxiety and teaching students how to balance multiple priorities and stressors.

The new requirements will also allow students to take more classes within their field of interest while still completing their general education requirements. “We will also be including key skills, digital literacy and writing intensive courses that will be specifically addressed by courses in the major. The skills they learn will now be more meaningful, letting them learn in the context of a field they’re already interested in,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson is the first dean of the College of Arts and Science to not be a Brandeis professor, and she finds that to be very beneficial. Coming from another institution, Hodgson has an outside perspective and fresh outlook on everything that Brandeis does. Even though Hodgson does not have prior experience on the Brandeis campus, she is working towards the commitment of social justice that she found appealing in Brandeis and making it transparent in her practices and processes.

When Hodgson was still being interviewed for the position, certain aspects of Brandeis students and culture appealed to her, including Brandeis’ commitment to social justice, the size of the school, and the unique curriculum at Brandeis. The first was the explicit commitment to social justice. “I did scholarly work in rural East Africa with the people who self-identify as Maasai, who had long histories of dispossession from their land, attacks on their identity and language. Much of my work is documenting and analyzing their experience of dispossession and efforts to challenge such marginalization,” Hodgson said.

Three weeks into her term, Hodgson is still trying to learn the ropes of a new school and environment. “I am spending a lot of time thinking and learning about how things are done at Brandeis,” said Hodgson. “I’m trying to think about the ways to make our decisions, processes and practices more consistent, more transparent and open to both students and faculty.”

Even though Hodgson is not teaching, she is working to find ways to engage with the student body because she recognizes the importance of open lines of communication, so students and faculty can step forward and not feel isolated for their opinions.

“Words are just words. It’s all about modeling and what we do. And I feel like I’ve been seen as someone who is frank and honest, warm but trying to bring people along towards a future, to build on the progress we’ve made and continue to strengthen Brandeis,” said Hodgson.

Hodgson also had a message for all the faculty and students.

“Thanks for welcoming me into your home. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming,” she said.

She continued, “I love ‘This is Our House’ and ‘Welcome Home,’ they are such meaningful sayings,” she said. “Please reach out, I’m here in service of the students, faculty and staff.”

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