New CLA dean wants to connect with students

CLA Dean James Parente

Tara Sloane

CLA Dean James Parente

The College of Liberal ArtsâÄô new dean has a laundry list of languages at his command. His real talent, though, is in seeing the big picture. University of Minnesota Provost Tom Sullivan named James Parente Dean of CLA on Oct. 16, and the Board of Regents will likely be asked to confirm his appointment at their meeting next Friday. Parente was named interim dean last September, and Chris Kearns, the associate dean for student services, said Parente has a real vision of what he wants to achieve. Parente said he is passionate about connecting students, especially undergraduates, with faculty. In high school, knowledge is poured in, Parente said, but undergraduates need to understand how that knowledge is created, making engagement with faculty important. As a part of that, Parente would like to expand the number of freshman seminars offered because he would like students to have faculty as mentors before they declare a major. The economy has created a new set of challenges for the new dean. Gary Oehlert, the assistant dean for planning , said MinnesotaâÄôs budget deficit has raised a lot of questions about what the collegeâÄôs budget will look like in the future. âÄúIâÄôm nervous, waiting to see whatâÄôs going to happen,âÄù Oehlert said, âÄúWe have lots of plans, and weâÄôre waiting to see what can be done.âÄù He has already done a lot to revitalize the religious studies program, an area where undergraduate interest is strong, Oehlert said. Parente has also restructured the linguistics department so the faculty can work more closely with those who are interested in it. Curiosity has driven Parente down his career path since high school. His brother, Stephen Parente, a professor of finance at the University, said their curiosity was really fostered by their parents, who let both brothers pursue their passions freely. James Parente studied Latin and Greek on his own time, in addition to the German he was learning at school, just because he wanted to know it, Stephen Parente said. When he was in high school, James Parente thought he was going to become a teacher. He would sit in his high school classes and think about how else they could be taught, with different readings, assignments and discussions. Less than a month into his freshman year at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, James Parente had decided to become a college professor instead of a high school teacher. It offered him an important opportunity to create new knowledge while still educating. During his time in college, James Parente said he had no idea what a dean did. Even though Haverford was small, he only met his dean once for what amounted to an exit interview. Although CLA is large, James Parente said he would like to take a more active role, possibly by meeting with different students every month informally to get a better idea of what they want. ParenteâÄôs involvement in administration started only a year after he received his Ph.D. in Germanic Languages from Yale University in 1979, when he was made director for undergraduate studies at Princeton UniversityâÄôs Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. When he became the UniversityâÄôs chair of the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch in July 1998, James Parente had already been at the University as a professor since 1990. As a department chairman, he started to look at ways the various departments could work together to better serve the students. ThatâÄôs why he took the job as associate dean for faculty and research under then-CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone in 2000. Since taking the position of interim dean last year, Parente has not been able to teach, but he said he would like to get back to teaching at least one course a year.