Rosenstone faces

Ken Eisinger

Steven Rosenstone takes home two one-inch thick folders every night — one full of unread correspondence, the other with documents for the next day.
Rosenstone, the College of Liberal Arts dean, said when his six-year-old daughter notices the deluge of papers she asks, “Daddy, why do you have so much homework?”
Though managing the college is a time-consuming balancing act he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
With 15,421 students, 488 faculty and 28 departments, Rosenstone runs a college larger than most universities in the state. Last year alone the college spent $82.5 million. The dean said he takes great pleasure in his position and added that his first 21 months have been very exciting.
This year he garnered his college an unprecedented $18.9 million in legislative support, faced allegations of discrimination made by members of the Chinese program and eased tension regarding a proposal to combine the speech communication and journalism departments.
This year’s events have left him familiar with controversy, beginning with the conflict over the merger.
A task force he appointed to propose a new media initiative in December 1997 upset students when it proposed the merger.
Rosenstone then met with dissatisfied students and faculty. The resulting conversations led him to scrap the merger and submit his own proposal in January.
“The first thing you do is listen; you have to,” he said, “The students are why we’re here. Then you do the best you can.”
Rosenstone’s best arrived three months later in the form of a record allocation that will upgrade the journalism and statistics departments.
With the Legislature’s support, most hard feelings disappeared.
Kathleen Hansen, associate journalism professor, said when Rosenstone attended a journalism faculty meeting a few weeks ago, the professors applauded him.
“(The allocation) saved this school from oblivion,” Hansen said.
Rosenstone faced more controversy when students in the Chinese program began fasting in order to force the dean to allocate more resources to the program.
Yu-Shih Chen, a Chinese professor, is an outspoken adversary of the dean. Chen accused Rosenstone of cutting resources from her program because the faculty are people of color and she is a woman. She plans to bring a discrimination lawsuit against the dean.
“(The discrimination) reflects very clearly his bias against programs that are not part of the dominant male power network,” she said.
Rosenstone, who was not aware of the suit, said controversy comes with the territory. He said the position requires him to make hard decisions.
“Sometimes I have to say ‘No’ when I really wish I didn’t have to,” he said. “And it’s painful to say that.”
W. Phillips Shively, former provost of arts, sciences and engineering, headed the search committee to replace former dean Julia Davis, who resigned after her contract was not renewed in January 1996.
Shively, a political science professor, recommended Rosenstone’s hiring in 1996 partially because he exhibited principled decision-making abilities.
The committee sought articulate leadership and vision, Shively said. Members of the college had high expectations of Rosenstone and his ability to reverse CLA’s recent decline, he added.
His sense of responsibility and stewardship to the college prevents him from making decisions on a whim, he said.
“I don’t want to leave a set of fiscal issues behind that put the college at risk,” Rosenstone said.
Budget retrenchments, low morale among faculty and Davis’ heated resignation preceded Rosenstone’s arrival. Yet he said he felt optimistic about the college’s future.
Rosenstone’s agenda for revamping the college included tapping underdeveloped resources to expand the role of the college.
For example, tuition revenue generates a large portion of CLA’s budget, leaving the college’s financial standing susceptible to fluctuations in enrollment. Rosenstone looked to research grants, legislative support and alumni donations to stabilize the college’s budget.
“That was my ambition … to try to put the pieces together in a more powerful way, building on the suggestions of the faculty and students,” he said.
Rosenstone does not dictate orders from on high. Instead, he said, he listens to advice from the people around him. Program chairs and directors regularly e-mail him ideas for improvements and innovations.
He is amazed when he regularly receives 22 e-mails between 5 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. He jokes, “As my daughter would say, ‘Can’t they get a life?'”
“He is willing to discuss problems,” said Seymor Geisser, chair of the statistics department. “The deanery does answer e-mails.”
Understanding the needs of the different departments means he must devise problem-solving ideas every day, Rosenstone said. Working to bring student and faculty ideas to life is the highlight of his job, he said.
Examples of what fulfills him include the creation of a new interdisciplinary department called the Humanities Institute, the construction of a dance building and the renovations of Ford and Murphy halls.
“If I can help create an environment where faculty and staff can do in more spectacular ways what they’re here to do, then I’ve contributed,” he said. “The exciting part is being in a position to create and build in new ways that allow for new possibilities.”