Marquette College of Arts & Sciences dean search narrows

The College of Arts & Sciences’ Class of 2014 may be the first class since 2007 to graduate with a permanent dean. After two failed searches and five years of interim deans, the most recent seven-month search has yielded a list of four finalists for the position.

Marquette announced the final candidates on Dec. 20. They are Erik Herron, associate chair and professor of political science at the University of Kansas; Richard Holz, associate dean for resources and planning and professor of chemistry at Loyola University Chicago; Dr. Marc Muskavitch, professor of biology at Boston College; and Patricia Okker, faculty fellow in the Office of the Provost and professor of English at the University of Missouri.

The College of Arts & Sciences is home to more than 2,500 undergraduates, making it the largest college at Marquette. It also houses the university’s core class requirements. All students in the university take a course in the College of Arts & Sciences at some point in their academic career. However, the college has been devoid of a permanent dean since former dean Michael McKinney retired in Dec. 2007.

The four candidates are scheduled to visit campus between Jan. 23 and 31. Each candidate will be on campus for two days to interact with the Marquette faculty, staff and students. Okker will be the first candidate to visit campus on Jan. 23.

Each finalist has a doctorate in her or his academic field and more than 10 years of teaching experience at the undergraduate level.

Phillip Naylor, the chair of the dean search committee and an associate professor of history, said it was important for a candidate to have experience on either a “high administrative level” or “unique” experience as a chair or a director of a center.

“We were looking for someone to have the breadth, the imagination and enterprise to handle this responsibility,” Naylor said.

Students will have an opportunity to meet and ask candidates questions at forums open to the university community. Each forum will take place at 4 p.m. on the day the candidate visits campus: Dr. Okker on Jan. 23, Dr. Muskavitch on Jan. 25, Dr. Herron on Jan. 29 and Dr. Holz on Jan. 31. Staff, faculty and students will also have the option to submit a feedback survey about the candidates online. The University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz, however, will be the one to make the final decision.

All of the candidates declined to comment at this point in the search process.

Students and faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences said they are excited to finally see promising progress and are pleased with the administration’s choice of candidates.

“They will all bring something unique to the university,” Naylor said. “And that is something I’m convinced of.”

Kailynn Phillips, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences and co-president for the Arts & Sciences Student Council, spoke on behalf of the council.

“Speaking from what I have heard at our council meetings, I can say we are all happy to see that the process of the dean search is progressing,” Phillips said. “So far, all of the potential deans seem to be excellent candidates for the position available.”

Despite the university’s efforts to frame the dean search in a positive light, some students feel the process was tainted in 2010 when the university rescinded its offer for the deanship to Jodi O’Brien, an openly gay professor at the University of Seattle. The administration said it rescinded the offer because her research, which focused on gay and lesbian lifestyles, did not align with the university’s Jesuit mission. This decision was criticized heavily by both the media and Marquette faculty and students.

Three years later, James Smith, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, believes this controversy may still undermine the authority and credibility of the new dean. Smith, like the other students in the college, has only had an interim dean during his academic career at Marquette.

“I think it’s pretty embarrassing that we don’t have the dean we offered the job to in 2010 (O’Brien),” Smith said. “The fact that a university of this size and stature would rescind an offer because of sexual orientation is incredibly sad to me. So, now, whoever does get the job is tainted with that controversy. Because in my mind, she (O’Brien) should already be the dean.”

At the time the offer to O’Brien was rescinded, then University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild said the decision was not made because of O’Brien’s sexual identity. Provost John Pauly said the university decided it would like a leader with a public record of a stronger commitment to Marquette’s Catholic identity.