Last week, employees of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate the announcement of their new leader. More than a dozen people gathered to split that one bottle – a lighthearted reminder of the serious resource inequities facing the university’s largest college.
John Townshend, chair of the geography department, will assume the BSOS deanship July 27.
University officials unanimously agree his greatest challenge will be fundraising. BSOS has 15 percent of the university’s undergraduate students, but receives about 9 percent of the university’s state funding.
Students highlighted this plight in an outdoor protest last spring. The administration has responded by allocating to the college a large sum of redistribution funds this summer. The provost has also promised to set aside additional money for the college every year for the next five years – Townshend said he would not have accepted the job without that commitment.
“I will have to try and make sure we get as many hard state dollars to the college as possible,” Townshend, 63, said. But he cautioned against operating in “victim mode” by tying all of the college’s woes to funding.
He plans to launch an aggressive campaign to tap into the pocketbooks of the college’s alumni network. And he acknowledged that to accomplish his two biggest goals – adding rigor to undergraduate programs and increasing graduate student and faculty involvement research – increased funding will be key.
The stakes, he said, are high.
“Our responsibilities are huge,” Townshend said. “If we do not do a good job, the university does not do a good job.”
With the new money, Townshend said he’ll make his first priority hiring new faculty, which will help reduce class sizes, a fundamental request of BSOS students.
During his five-year term, Townshend hopes to reduce class sizes from an average of 63 students to 49 students and cap 400-level classes at 25 students. He wants to raise standards by offering more undergraduate programs and require each department to have an honors program.
He said new hires should strengthen student-faculty relations, adding that he refuses to bring in faculty members who focus solely on research and regard teaching as “that extra thing you have to do.”
However, Townshend recognized that research will be paramount in raising the college’s national profile. He plans to call on each department to identify an area in which it will work toward gaining national, and preferably international, prominence. Townshend offers his department, one of the country’s leading geography programs, as one example.
Townshend has twice been its chair: from 1989 to 1995 and from 2001 until now. Though small, Townshend calls the geography department a grant machine, bringing $700,000 to $800,000 per faculty member in research funding every year. Before his arrival, the department received less than $1 million a year in research funding. Now, it averages about $7 million to $9 million annually.
Joseph Cirrincione, associate chair of geography, has worked in the department for nearly 40 years and calls Townshend “by far the most outstanding chair we’ve had.”
Townshend encouraged faculty to collaborate on research, added staff to facilitate grant-writing and required all faculty to teach at least one undergraduate course.
That collaborative spirit is characteristic of Townshend, said university President Dan Mote.
“He’s a builder; he’s a person who creates enterprise,” Mote said. “He gets things done on a big scale, and that’s important for a dean.”
Former BSOS Dean Edward Montgomery left the university in April to direct recovery efforts for autoworkers and their communities for President Barack Obama’s administration.
The search for a new dean was internal, and while that limited the pool of qualified candidates, BSOS officials were satisfied with the process.
An external search could have lasted a year, Associate Dean Robert Schwab said. Given the college’s problems, the university may have also had difficulty attracting outside candidates, said Katherine Pedro Beardsley, assistant dean in the college.
In this period of rapid change, BSOS needed someone who was familiar with its workings, Schwab said.
A 20-year veteran of the university, Townshend agreed. Though he lacks the new perspective of an outsider, “I’ve never felt myself short of ideas,” he said.
Townshend has taught geography at the university since 1989. He holds a B.S. and a Ph.D. from University College London.
The two other finalists for dean were William Falk, professor and former chair of the sociology department, and Jonathan Wilkenfeld, professor in government and politics and director of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management, according to BSOS officials.