Q & A with Daniele Struppa, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Posted: September 26, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: The Daily Gazette is publishing interviews with 10 deans, 2 institute directors, and the vice president for University Life focusing on what was successful in their departments last year and what the George Mason community can expect this year. This is the 13th article in the series, which will conclude next week with an interview with President Alan Merten.

By Jeremy Lasich

Can you give me a brief year-in-review for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and talk about some of the successes you had?

Well, the biggest highlight was the [2002] Nobel [Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences] awarded to Vernon Smith in the Economics Department. It’s very tough to top that. He received the prize in November and we were very excited because we had been working very hard to secure him and his group to come here from the University of Arizona.

Daniele Struppa
Daniele Struppa

Another important development is that we created the Center for Biodefense, which has been converted to the National Center for Biodefense. It’s a very important operation led by Ken Alibek, Charles Bailey, and Vikas Chandhoke. We have a lot of proposals out now and we expect to receive significant funding in the very near future, which is important for the type of work that is going on there.

Finally, just a week or so ago, the Library of Congress has symbolically received our digital Sept. 11 archive, which has been organized and built by our Center for History and New Media. This is a very significant event as it shows that GMU can marry humanities and technology in a way unique in the world.

Another thing I should mention is that we had significant budget cuts like everybody else, and yet the college managed to close the year very well with no significant impact on the quality of our education offerings or our intellectual research. Our fundraising campaign continues to be very good. As of July 11, CAS was the academic unit with the largest success in the campaign, and our research expenditure is also going up. We now have a yearly research expenditure of $11 million, up from $6 million just two years ago. All in all it was a very good year despite the fact that I was away for half of it.

While you were gone for those six months, how did CAS handle the transition?

I think the college did great because Dee Ann Holisky [associate dean for Academic Programs] was a fantastic interim dean while I was away. She was absolutely wonderful. All the chairs worked very hard with Dee to minimize the impact of the budget cuts in a way that was acceptable to the functionality of the units. So when I came back in January, I found that the college was in very good financial status. We had a conversation, which we called the Conversation of the Rings, because dialogue represents three rings: one the humanities, one the social sciences, and one the sciences. I asked the faculty while I was away to think along those lines to whether we could unify those individual rings. For the sciences, life sciences and biosciences are the unifying elements, which doesn’t mean we don’t want to handle research, but that is one of the overarching themes. Both the social sciences and humanities came up with interesting proposals, which include global issues in education. So that’s something we will discuss further with the provost and try to put together for next year.

The other thing was the discussion about the future of biosciences. I found a series of proposals when I came back, and that led to the creation of a new department called molecular and microbiology.

You mentioned the budget cuts earlier. What are some of the things you did to keep the quality of the departments up and maintain a high level of education?

Many departments agreed to take cuts in direct expenses, which departments use at their discretion for telephones, photo copying, travel–all the funds formerly called OTPS (other than personal services) and now referred to as DE (direct expenses). They made the life of the faculty harder and less pleasant, but it doesn’t necessarily impact the students directly. We did reduce some of the number of small classes, but we tried to do it in a way that wouldn’t be damaging, like being cut from 19 to 25 students. From a student’s prospective, it’s probably not a big change. We also have several positions in our office that have been vacant, and we have not filled those.

What are some of the goals and challenges you are looking at for next year?

There are several things we are working on. It will be very important to close many of the loops we have in the biosciences. We have a lot of projects going on, and this is the time to get the money that we need, and I’m very optimistic about that. The sciences have gotten together, and they are working on a new program–an interdisciplinary undergraduate major in science, with a small cohort of 145 students. We’re working together with our friends in the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) on an undergraduate degree program in conflict resolution that will be co-managed between CAS and ICAR. We’re also preparing several graduate programs that need to get approval. One of them is going to be in collaboration with the School of Computational Sciences in neuroscience, and we are working on a doctoral program with the Administration of Justice Department. Mathematics is working on a doctoral program as well.

One of our challenges is our competition with other universities. As a college, we have gotten better, and we are hiring better faculty members. These faculty are getting offers from other schools, and it’s a challenge to retain these people and keep their expertise here at George Mason.

What are some of the unique challenges of running the largest college/school at George Mason?

One challenge is the diverse nature of what we offer. A lot of schools are very straightforward and focused on one type of student–engineering, management, public policy. The College of Arts and Sciences offers a wide variety of programs in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. We do have a very common thread, which is a notion of the liberal arts, but it is kind of a more abstract notion for many people. So it’s a little more difficult to make sure our constituents understand that math, history, geography, and English are not as separate as they appear, but in fact they have a common base in liberal arts.

A second challenge is that we are significantly underfunded. Going back for a number of years, the college has several responsibilities for which we are not properly funded. This is not the fault of the university because there is significant funding problem at the state level, but when budget cuts arrive, they cut a budget that is already very thin. Per student FTE, the College of Arts and Sciences is the most efficient operation on campus.

Have you added any new faculty members that are teaching this semester?

Yes we have, but there are too many to name without leaving out some of the others. We do have a new chair of the Sociology Department, Steve Vallas–he’s going to be a major presence on campus. We have quite a few new people in the biosciences and math departments as well. Overall, we are very enthusiastic about what we are doing in CAS and very enthusiastic about the future.

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