New dean brings creative ideas

Kelly Wittman

As a professor at the University of Michigan, new College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone liked doing something many of his colleagues didn’t — teaching introductory-level classes.
One of his favorite classes to teach was an introductory American politics course. One year, during the first week of class, Rosenstone said he told students that if he suspected the assigned reading wasn’t being done, he would institute a series of pop quizzes.
In the fourth week, Rosenstone told the class that it had come to his attention that people were not doing their reading, and he told them to close their notes for a quiz. Groans of protest went up from the assembled students as the test sheets were passed out, he said.
Students began to break out in a cold sweat after realizing they couldn’t answer any of the questions, Rosenstone said.
After letting his class wallow in anxiety for a few minutes, Rosenstone informed the students they had been given the Alabama Literacy Test, the same test that was administered to blacks in the South if they wanted to vote.
Rosenstone used the voting test to demonstrate the unreasonably high barriers blacks faced while trying to secure a right that whites were able to take for granted. Later, the test was deemed illegal under the 14th Amendment Voting Rights Act of 1964.
Rosenstone brought his knack for getting a point across when he took over as the dean of CLA last week. He has definite ideas about the need to rebuild CLA and about the strengths he brings to the position as an outsider.
Rosenstone’s instatement as dean officially ends several months of searching that began last winter when former Dean Julia Davis was told her contract would not be renewed. Davis resigned shortly after the decision was announced. Interim Dean Robert Holt led the college until Rosenstone took his place.
Rosenstone said the two most important initiatives he wants to act upon this year are ensuring quality faculty and undergraduate education in CLA.
Over the past decade, the University has done a lot of shrinking of departments and cutting of faculty salaries, Rosenstone said.
“We’ve lost some stellar faculty,” he said. “In fact, it’s amazing how well CLA has kept its position in college ratings given the number of hits the school has taken,” Rosenstone said.
One area the college needs to work on is its student-faculty ratio, he said. CLA has more students per professor than most of the other Big Ten schools, he said.
In fact, one of the biggest complaints students have about their college experiences at the University is large classes, according to opinion sheets filled out by graduating students.
Twenty-nine new professors will help lower the student-faculty ratio, he said. Funds put aside specifically to improve undergraduate education have made it possible for the college to start the search for professors to fill positions that have been open for some time, as well as to replace retiring faculty. Not all 29 positions will be filled next September, but students can expect about 20 new faculty members in departments across the college by next fall, he said.
The dean’s office is also working with the Curriculum Instruction and Advising Committee to provide an undergraduate education that produces creative workers, Rosenstone said. Businesses are no longer just looking for people with technological know-how; they’re looking for people with good ideas, he said.
One of the concerns of the committee that selected Rosenstone, he said, was whether to choose a dean from faculty here or from another school.
Rosenstone said there are some advantages to being from the outside. For example, he knows how things are done at other institutions, which brings perspective. “Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to point out new ways of doing things,” he said.
Furthermore, Rosenstone said he has not been a party to some of the infighting that has gone on at the college over the past several years. He said he hopes not to exacerbate or revisit those divisions, but to bring people together on what needs to be done to rebuild the college. “I sense someone new has a better chance of pulling that off,” he said.