September 26, 2003
Phone: (504) 865-5714
The distance between Hebert and Cudd halls can be measured in feet, but for George Bernstein, the move from one building to the other marks a milestone in his career.
This summer Bernstein left the familiar trappings of his history department office in Hebert Hall to take up residence in Cudd Hall as dean of Paul Tulane College.
For Bernstein, who has been on the faculty since 1980, the move to succeed interim dean T.R. Kidder was unanticipated.
"I never had any thought of going into the administration," said Bernstein, who has flirted with administrative work through two stints as associate chair of the history department.
"But people began to ask me if I had thought about applying for the position and said that I would perhaps be good at this."
For Bernstein, who is just now putting the finishing touches on the final revision of an upcoming book, The Myth of Decline: the Rise of Britain Since 1945, the timing was right. "If I were in the middle of the book, I would not have taken the position.
But finishing something that I had been working on since 1997 meant I was in the mental position to rethink what I wanted to do for a while." And what he will be mainly doing is building upon Tulane College's successful strategic plan in order to maintain the quality of the experience of undergraduate males in liberal arts and sciences at Tulane.
"To my mind, it seems to be straightforward what the dean is supposed to do," quips Bernstein. "We have great programs and great people to implement them." Thanks to strategic planning completed by former Tulane College dean Tony Cummings, the college isn't in need of a new vision, says Bernstein. "We know what we want to do, and we know what resources we have. My job is to build on what we have, and that means raising money."
Anyone thinking that the notion of fundraising is intimidating to a history professor would, at least in this case, be wrong. Bernstein, in fact, has a background in fundraising and it's something he likes. Before he acquired his doctorate in 1978, Bernstein began working in annual giving at the University of Chicago. Then he joined the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University in 1979 to assist its dean in fundraising and curriculum development.
It's a job he thoroughly enjoyed for 16 months before he was hired as an assistant professor of history at Tulane. Three years ago, he was named a member of the board of trustees at Sidwell Friends School, in Washington D.C., where he attended grades six through 12. The fundraising and monthly travel required of that position also have been good preparation, he says.
Besides providing programs that will enrich the lives of Tulane College students through research opportunities, greater contact with LAS faculty, summer travel, career planning programs and professional networking, his office also serves as a bridge between college students and alumni.
"In part, our job is to link these two constituencies," says Bernstein. "Alumni like to meet students, see the quality of the student body and be helpful. And students like to meet alumni who are successful in their careers."
It is the intimate nature of the relationship between Tulane and Newcomb colleges and their students that is so important, says Bernstein. "What do we sell? We sell a major research university that exists in an environment where undergraduate education is central. The colleges allow us to create a smaller environment. They allow us to develop programs that are gender-specific and aimed at our students' interests. Beyond that, we are very conscious of role models. It is useful for our guys to talk to other guys in different fields and see how they use liberal arts."
Bernstein, whose field is modern British history, is a great believer in liberal arts and sciences. "The value of a liberal arts education is that it trains certain skills of how to read, how to write, how to think and how to research in a variety of subjects so that you are not locked into one way of thinking, or one way of doing, but have a kind of intellectual flexibility and skills to master the discourse and methods of any field."
That, he says, is important in an age where Americans typically change careers several times during their professional lives. And Bernstein now knows about changing careers in midstream. "I feel that Tulane is one of the great lucky things that happened to me," says Bernstein, who is married to a New Orleans native and has three stepchildren, all who have attended Tulane. "To have ended up at a school this good and in a city this neat--I couldn't have hand-picked a better job."
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