Grad School Gets Full-time Dean

February 9, 2002

NickĀ  Marinello
Phone: 865-5714

A half-year internal search to fill the position of dean of the Graduate School ended last month with the appointment of chemistry professor Mike Herman. It marks the first time in 25 years that the school is being led by a full-time dean Herman, who has been on the faculty since 1981, possesses the precise skills and experience for the job, says James MacLaren, associate provost.

"The goal of the search was to produce strong leadership for the Graduate School," he says. "Mike is a strong researcher, brings a wealth of institutional knowledge and is liked and respected by his colleagues."

"Mike is the perfect choice," echoes Kay Orrill, who, as assistant dean, has run the school's day-to-day operations for 18 years. "He has a lot of credibility with both faculty and administration."

Just this December, Herman was named a fellow of the American Physical Society, a prestigious honor that is annually conferred to less that .5 percent of the group's 40,000 national membership. Herman, who was nominated for the position by a colleague after a visiting consultant team recommended that Tulane hire a full-time graduate school dean, says he was at first hesitant to consider the job.

"I really like being a faculty member. I like teaching and doing research. My position has been that if people felt I was the best person for the job then I would be willing to do this."

A two-time member of the graduate council and current chair of the University Senate Budget Review Committee (a position that he will now have to relinquish), Herman says he has been concerned that the Graduate School has suffered from years of underresourcing and inconsistent leadership. It is something Orrill can attest to.

"I have worked with eight deans in my time here," she says. None of them, she notes, was a full-time appointment but, rather, shared their graduate school responsibilities with other administrative tasks. The last time the school had a full-time dean was 1976, she says.

"I think Mike's appointment signifies the administration is committed to promoting graduate education on campus," says MacLaren, adding that a full-time graduate school dean can advocate for graduate education. "For Tulane to be a strong undergraduate campus we need a strong graduate program. You cannot attract a good faculty to departments unless you have a strong research presence."

Speaking during the second week of his five-year appointment, Herman says he has no "agenda" regarding particular departments.

"I'm not necessarily looking to start this graduate program or replace that one," he says. Instead, what he sees as his primary goal is to increase the level of stipends now being awarded to the schools 28 funded programs. "The stipend level here is below the level of most departments nationally," he says. "We have only had a very small increase in stipend levels in the last seven or eight years and have fallen below competitive levels."

Herman said he "wouldn't rule out" moving stipends around or combining stipends of existing programs. Any such decision, however, will be made after a thorough review of the Graduate School. The last such review took place in 1994 and, according to Orrill, was compromised by the budget cutting that resulted from the Tulane 2000 plan.

"We were forced to take an $800,000 cut in stipends," she says. "We had to rethink how we were going to review graduate programs." She is more optimistic now. "President Cowen has said that he wants to see some of our graduate programs be in the top 50. We have to decide where our areas of excellence are and build on that."

Though no timeline has yet been established for the review, Herman says it will begin with a self-study from each department. Such reviews, he says, are helpful in identifying a department's strengths and weaknesses. Herman, a theoretical chemist, is currently teaching a graduate course in statistical mechanics. While he has enjoyed teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses during the last 20 years, he says he doesn't expect to be in the classroom much during his tenure as dean.

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