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Trumbower to return as dean, help guide change-overs

06.14.17
By: Mark Tarnacki
Jeffrey Trumbower

Jeffrey Trumbower

Jeffrey Trumbower, a professor of religious studies who served as dean of the College from 2005 to 2014, will return to the position starting July 1, Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino announced Tuesday. 

Trumbower will be re-assuming his duties from Jeffrey Ayres, a veteran professor of political science who has served as dean since 2014 and now will return to the classroom fulltime. Initially in 2005, Trumbower had succeeded John Kenney, also of the religious studies faculty, who was dean for about a decade.

Talentino had the final say in the recent appointment, guided in her choice among several candidates by a faculty survey and the work of the Dean Search Committee. In a Tuesday email to the community, Talentino stated: “I appreciate his willingness to serve the College once more as Dean at a time when his extensive leadership experience will be extremely valuable to the institution.  He is an outstanding teacher and scholar, and has mentored many junior faculty during his time as department chair and dean.” Talentino also expressed appreciation for the members of the Dean Search Committee -- Bob Niemi, Valerie Bang-Jensen, Bret Findley, Sandy Karstens, Shefali Misra --for their good work over the past few weeks. 

She said Trumbower “will bring a strong knowledge of curriculum development to the position, which will be especially important in the next year as he works with the faculty to finalize the LSC revision (referring to the Liberal Studies Curriculum).

Timing felt right

Trumbower said Wednesday that he placed himself in consideration to return as dean after encouragement from colleagues who felt his ability to “hit the ground running,” given his familiarity with the College and its dean job-duties alongside his demonstrated adept dedication to curriculum matters, would be valuable as Saint Michael’s enters a time of significant challenge and transition. President Jack Neuhauser has announced his plan to leave the College in a year; faculty have been moving toward significant revision in the Liberal Studies Curriculum; and, the College has begun strategically shrinking slightly to address the recruitment and budget pressures now widespread in academia, engendering the need for greater creative initiative than usual in staffing and scheduling.

I enjoyed being a dean, and I enjoyed full-time teaching, so it wasn’t a case of feeling a need for change as such -- and I still plan to teach one course a semester,” Trumbower said, adding that he also had taught one course a year during his earlier term as dean. He intends to make good on an earlier commitment to team-teach the course “Varieties of Christianity” with his new department colleague Eva Pascal this fall, and in the spring semester, he plans to teach his Old Testament course.

Trumbower said that while he begins the job with no formal contractual stipulation on length of term, he and Talentino have “talked of the desirability of three years” (with much depending on the wishes of the new president) given how that has been the College’s informally historical norm on dean-terms with Ayres having just finished three years and Trumbower having served three successive three-year terms before.

Focusing on curriculum

“I look forward especially to working with faculty on curriculum,” Trumbower said, “because that’s the thing I think I’m best at, and now we have a new Liberal Studies model on the fast-track.” He said this new LSC model “significantly shifts the curriculum’s organizational categories from departments and fields-of-study to particular ‘core questions’ that can be answered in different disciplinary ways, focused on those core questions.” The new approach was developed a lot during a May faculty meeting and is being refined during this summer, he said, with a likely vote in the fall aiming at implementation by fall of 2019

Trumbower said he also will help work through more general curriculum issues raised by a large number of faculty retirements through the voluntary separation plan put forth by the College earlier this year, since many positions won’t be replaced in the near-term in order to meet budget goals. Trumbower said he will be working with departments and programs “on how we can maintain quality and re-arrange faculty” given those new realities.

Addressing faculty before the recent dean vote, Trumbower said he would like to explore curricular steps based on research by Christos Makridis of Stanford University that recently has been getting wide attention. The scholar’s data demonstrate that students who combine majors in liberal arts with majors in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), or business, do better financially in the long-run than do graduates with single-focus majors. That’s exciting to him, Trumbower said, since Saint Michael’s from its very beginnings has explicitly emphasized just such a combination of “commercial and classical courses” assuring both depth and breadth of knowledge, as seen in catalogs through different eras. “I think we could do things with the double-majors or minors in getting these course/discipline combinations to be more marketable, in ways very authentic to our mission and history,” he said. “That’s an idea I’d like to see if we can pursue or make more deliberate or consistent.”

Trumbower said he looks forward to working with Jeff Ayres in “getting up to speed” on pressing issues for the dean, since much of Trumbower’s dean knowledge “is three years old.” While he’ll be moving to the dean’s office in Founders Hall come July, he also plans to keep office space in St. Edmund’s Hall with his department for research and meeting students.

Well-credentialed

In 2002, Trumbower received the top College scholarship award and was cited by his colleagues for outstanding teaching as well as scholarship, for contagious enthusiasm for gifted and animated storytelling, and for “making ancient literatures come alive and the issues they raise relevant.” In 2005 he received a coveted service award from the graduating seniors. A member of the Saint Michael’s faculty since 1989, he graduated and earned a master’s and a doctorate degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of two books: Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2001), and Born From Above: The Anthropology of the Gospel of John (J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck] 1992), plus eleven articles and numerous book reviews in his field.

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