Natarajan new Dean of the Faculty

Natarajan settles in, looks ahead as Dean of the Faculty

July 24, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Tara NatarajanSaint Michael’s College faculty have a new academic leader and advocate as of July 1:  Dean of the Faculty Tara Natarajan from the Economics Department.

Natarajan told faculty colleagues at an April meeting to hear dean candidates that she well recognizes the challenges faced by small colleges in New England these days and feels prepared to meet them with a well-considered and practical plan and philosophy for a path forward. She was appointed dean on faculty recommendation shortly after that meeting, and has been settling into her office in Founders Hall the past several weeks — at least for now, until the administration’s planned move over to Klein Hall in August.

“As Dean, I would provide the leadership that re-instills a more expansive view of all of our programs while being pragmatic about needs and resources,” Natarajan said at that April meeting. “I want to provide the leadership to galvanize our academic programs and faculty because it is central to the existence and future of this college.”

Natarajan, who came to Saint Michael’s in 2001 and was a longtime Economics Department chair, assumed the newly created title of Dean of the Faculty within the Saint Michael’s administration in recent weeks. She teaches and publishes in the areas of international development, agrarian poverty and in economic thought and methodology. The College’s Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and her predecessor as dean, Jeffrey Trumbower, has for the past year concurrently held his previous longtime title Dean of the College (roughly entailing similar duties to Natarajan’s duties now as Dean of Faculty though under a different name) alongside the VPAA title; now, Trumbower has passed most of the faculty-related duties of the Dean position on to Natarajan, leaving him better able to focus on VPAA duties.

Trumbower said he was pleased with the faculty’s recommendation of so strong an academic leader for dean. “Tara has been an exemplary faculty member in the classroom, in scholarship, and in committee service. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position,” he said. “I’m also pleased that she will continue to teach part-time while in her new role. The role was re-defined last year in the Faculty Regulations, with certain strategic financial functions staying with the VPAA, hence our decision to change the title from ‘Dean of the College’ to ‘Dean of the Faculty.’ The latter better expresses the re-defined focus of this administrative position.  I look forward to working closely with Tara on all sorts of initiatives in the coming year, encompassing both cost-saving measures and innovation with new programs.”

Natarajan has a long record of leadership and service at Saint Michael’s on many key faculty committees and told colleagues in April she is a heterodox economist and can bring a similar expanded-view to the dean’s position. “[In Economics] I added new diverse offerings to our program and have brought new approaches to existing offerings and have done so in a non-divisive and programmatically integrated manner with the goal of enriching our curriculum in the fullness of time,” she said. “It was never about being radical or making a statement but always about being expansive, and complementary …”I have always believed that it is best to lead by building partnerships and bridges.”

“Faculty, programs and departments should not have to be in competition with each other,” Natarajan said. “We have to see our work and contributions as part of a larger cohesive whole…and engender a sense of cooperative wisdom …”

Natarajan said she believes firmly that adjustments during these times of more limited resources for colleges in general requires taking a longer view, with close attention always to the possible effects of measures that might bring short-term cost savings but, in the long run, negatively impact perceptions of what the College offers as a cohesive whole.

Natarajan is originally from India where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Bombay’s Sophia College and the University of Bombay, respectively. Her concentrations in those studies were statistics and economics, mathematical economics and international economics. After those studies she came to the U.S. to complete her economics doctorate at the University of Nebraska in 2001 — the year she came to Saint Michael’s. Her major field was development systems, with a minor field in history of economic thought. Her education also includes an experiential year in Norway where she earned a Certificate in Global Issues. Natarajan’s resume include extensive activities in professional organizations in the economics fields, publications and many presentations on a broad range of topics, both at Saint Michael’s and at conferences across the U.S. and around the world.

Her interests in the community outside of Saint Michael’s include long involvement with the Friends of Indian Music and Dance, where she served as coordinator and board member through the group’s existence until 2018. She also is a volunteer with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program USA. Natarajan is fluent in Hindi and Tamil along with English. She lives in Burlington, is married to fellow economist Wayne Edwards and has a daughter, Katya Marsh, who is a rising junior at the college here.

In her case to faculty for becoming Dean, Natarajan pointed to her experience in leadership posts while at Saint Michael’s, her “deep sense of accountability towards all that I do” and respect for faculty and staff work, her attention “to workflow, details, process and procedures” with a focus on outcomes and the consequences of her work on others and the institution; the value she places on learning from others through introspective self-criticism; the way she holds herself to a high standard of excellence; and her ability to communicate clearly about the work to be done.

“Communicating clearly and thoughtfully about how and why one arrived at a decision and also being transparent about the consequences, is central in creating a collaborative place of work,” the new dean said.

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