Advo Q&A: Prof turned interim dean talks realignment

Graphic by Jessica Fleming

Graphic by Jessica Fleming

While each student and professor  switched to a new college this school year due to the most elaborate reorganization of MSUM in a generation, long-time philosophy professor Randy Cagle got a promotion.

He has stepped out of the classroom into a new office in Flora Frick as interim dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, one of five renamed and realigned colleges.

Cagle started the one-year position June 1, although the new college didn’t launch until July 1.

“I like to joke that for exactly one month I was dean of nothing,” Cagle said when The Advocate caught up with him in his office earlier this month. He went on to discuss his new role, realignment and whether he plans to return to the faculty.

How are you adjusting to the administrative role?

The extra time over the summer helped transition in. It’s a little more relaxed in its pacing.

It got me thinking a lot about academic planning. I was able to hire my replacement in the philosophy department, Eric Chelstrom. I was able to hire the college assistant Deb Radke as well.

Then, when the semester started, I was seeing all these other faculty members fall immediately back into their element – fish in water – and here I am with something entirely new. I felt a little displaced but still happy with my choice.

Do you miss the classroom and philosophy?

I already do. I miss the classroom. I walk down the halls, and I’m able to see in and see these colleagues of mine doing their thing in the classroom at the front of the room. My consolation is that I like to think that I help them do what they do in the classroom. My job as an administrator is as an enabler of faculty and academics. But yeah, I miss the classroom. I always love the classroom.

What kind of difficulties are there administering a new college – a realigned college?

Well, the major difficulty is the question of identity. What are we? Why do the humanities and social sciences belong together? What do we have in common? Are there common learning outcomes? I believe that there are.

Timing is on our side here. There was a report published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences called “The Heart of the Matter,” and it’s a report specifically on the humanities and social sciences and, to put it mildly, undesirable consequences of society’s disinvestment in those areas.

There are some faculty in the college who may feel they don’t belong with the other departments, or they don’t make a good fit. But all the early signs are encouraging. I think people are excited to get together. They see potential for interdisciplinarity, which is already strong in the college – that it can be made even stronger. There’s that identity question, I think. Also, for the record, the final realignment decision made it very, very clear that the College of Humanities and Social Sciences is a temporary name.

What’s going to go into deciding a permanent name?

The president made it very clear that the faculty would work with the dean to come up with a new name. Throughout the year, there’s going to be a lot of planning done at the department level as well as the university levels and, what I plan to do is make the discussion about the college name a part of that larger planning process. The decision about the name should really be an outcome of planning and thinking about what we are as a group of disciplines and programs.

How much does it even matter what it’s called?

That’s a great question. I think it matters. First of all, it matters to faculty; that’s very clear. There were already some very intense feelings about this. Some faculty think we should be able to remain, if we decide to, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Others think we need a name that parallels the other college names. The other colleges have career cluster and outcome oriented names. If we retained humanities and social sciences, we would be a traditional disciplinary oriented name. But I think it’s important because it can capture what we have in common and what our value is as a set of disciplines and programs.

What kind of work is going to be done to make the new college not just a paper shuffling of reorganized departments, but have a value beyond that? 

Part of that will depend on how the academic plan turns out. That’s a question that really applies equally to all of the colleges. We all have this challenge of forging an identity and to think in terms of outcome. Not just what we are but what we do and what we produce – what we contribute to society via our graduates. I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at our academic master plan (“Fulfilling our Promise”)It’s a rather impressive and challenging document, and it requires us to think in ways that we haven’t been accustomed to think.

Is being a part of the administration something you’ll consider pursuing more long term, or would you like to return to teaching?

To be honest, it’s rather early to make that decision. I’m encouraged by my experiences so far. They are sometimes challenging but also very rewarding.


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