First job for new Dean of Faculty Gretchen Galbraith: Attentive listening

Experienced administrator and history scholar has deep roots in Burlington area and longstanding appreciation for Saint Michael's

August 18, 2022

The new Saint Michael’s College Dean of Faculty Gretchen Galbraith is an experienced college administrator and history scholar with deep Vermont roots. She keeps it simple describing her first order of business since starting work July 11: “I need to stop and listen and be attentive.”

Gretchen Galbraith

Gretchen Galbraith

The new dean said her “listening” of recent weeks helps her identify priorities in light of well-publicized significant dips in the pool of college-aged applicants across higher education and particularly in New England. “Given the demographic slide we’re up against, we’re going to need to be creative in putting together new interdisciplinary offerings that speak to the needs of this generation of students who have already faced so much complexity in their young lives,” she said.

Her history studies and later professional leadership of college programs during challenging periods of recalibration contribute to her direct appreciation for liberal arts education and preparedness to advance the distinguishing Saint Michael’s education model and mission through any necessary changes.

Since her early youth in greater Burlington as the granddaughter of a social-justice minded Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, right through later years across several states when her dad worked as a high-ranking public health official, Galbraith has been attentive to matters relevant to a leader for a socially conscious and religiously rooted Vermont institution coming through pandemic times.

“Part of what drew me to St. Mike’s was the knowledge that the College is poised to both tell its story and to enable students to discern their own stories,” she said. While students increasingly appear to be seeking out larger schools for now, she said, “I think these are early days to be discerning any longer-term patterns. It seems to me that smaller colleges need to double down on telling their stories and celebrating all the possibilities for a transformative education that are uniquely available in these smaller scale settings.”

Galbraith comes to Saint Michael’s from SUNY Potsdam, where she was dean of arts and sciences since 2019. Before that, she was associate dean for faculty, resources, and scheduling in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, from 2014-2019. There she chaired the History Department and was interim director of the Honors College. She holds a doctorate from Rutgers University in European and Women’s History, and has a history bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College. She is the author of the book Reading Lives: Reconstructing British Childhoods 1860-1914 (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), along with several articles and book chapters. Her most recent scholarly work is on Constance Maynard, a pioneer of women’s education in Britain. She also has an interest in using gaming as a pedagogical tool, subject of a work-in-progress and the focus of her professional service. She plans to have a limited teaching role starting the next spring semester at Saint Michael’s, saying “I like being in the classroom and know it makes me better at my dean role.”

Getting Up to Speed

One great thing about starting a new academic role in July, Galbraith said, is a relative campus quiet that allows her “to settle in and learn about both how things are done at the College and the important initiatives that are under way.” This has included learning more about the emerging Strategic Plan and better understanding the theme of equity and inclusion in the hiring of faculty.

“I had a wonderful dean at a prior institution who mentored a number of us to go on to other institutions and let me run with some things, including making sure that our hiring and tenure and promotion documents were run through the lens of inclusivity, while making sure that work wasn’t invisible,” she said.

Galbraith identified several immediate roles that she fills in her position of Dean of Faculty. These include “welcoming and orienting new faculty and then assuring they are supported in their work at every stage of their careers,” though her most important priority “is to listen and learn about St. Mike’s and get to know the talented people here.” As with any academic dean, she will be deeply involved in tenure and promotion reviews for faculty along with the faculty hiring process. She still is thinking through her optimal potential role in advancing the College’s new Strategic Plan, discerning particularly how she might facilitate and support work of two strategic plan pillars: the Center for the Environment and Center for Global Engagement.

A rich family history

With her broad family ties to greater Burlington, Galbraith said, “Saint Michael’s has always held a place in my mind as a unique college with a compelling mission, nestled in the heart of a great community.” She said the College’s Edmundite heritage and emphasis on social justice and educating the whole person alongside its focus on serving students and the community represent “the best a small liberal arts college can offer.”


Dean of Faculty Gretchen Galbraith in the Saint Michael’s Teaching Gardens near her Klein Hall office after starting work this summer. “Saint Michael’s has always held a place in my mind as a unique college with a compelling mission, nestled in the heart of a great community,” she says. (photo Lauren Read)

She comes by her social sensibilities honestly. Her grandfather, Harvey Butterfield, was the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont from 1961 to 1974, and she had the privilege of living for a time at beautiful Rock Point on Lake Champlain, then the bishop’s residence, when her parents lived on the property as well for a time — so it is the family “happy place.”

“I later lived and went to school in South Burlington until midway through high school when we moved to New York State and then Connecticut and I’ve always come back since, visiting first my grandparents and then my parents who moved back to Vermont in the 1990s,” she said. Galbraith’s dad, Peter, eventually served as Vermont’s state epidemiologist for some years before retiring. Earlier in his career, he worked on issues of infectious disease, maternal and child health, and pandemic-preparedness for the state of Connecticut.

Galbraith said her late grandfather during his time as bishop was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and opposed the Vietnam War — controversial at the time. Bishop Butterfield also was a supporter of the ordination of women to the priesthood and was the first Bishop of Vermont to ordain women in Vermont. He retired in 1973 and spent six months as a missionary in El Salvador with Galbraith’s grandmother, who was “very much a partner in his life’s work,” she said. For their own part on the social justice front, Galbraith’s parents worked closely with the Sudanese refugee “Lost Boys” who relocated to Vermont, putting her parents in close collaboration with Adrie Kusserow of the Saint Michael’s anthropology/sociology faculty. All this informs Galbraith’s deep appreciation of the Saint Michael’s commitment to social justice and progressive values, she said.

Her love for history began in teen years with a book about a young woman’s experience in Britain in World War I and that directed her toward later specialties in women’s and British history. “In college I realized that I could actually study and teach history for a living and was lucky to get to graduate school at a point when social and women’s and gender history were opening up new possibilities for historical study,” she said.

Galbraith said she went where the job was directly after graduate school: Grand Valley State in western Michigan, a growing public comprehensive university that had 11,000 students when she started and 24,000 when she moved on 25 years later. She “fell into” her first administrative roles but came to value that she could “be part of problem-solving and creating structures and processes that support faculty in their work.”

She said among the most energizing aspects of her career have included fostering conversations across disciplines and working with national groups in leadership roles to support faculty across North American higher education, as institutions rethink curricula and classroom-teaching approaches.

Her projects have emphasized collaborations beyond strictly the traditional academic realms in order to enrich faculty and student experiences. One initiative creatively developed collaborations among faculty, the library, the arts, social sciences, humanities and computer science programs. Community outreach comes into play for Galbraith too. “I’m especially proud of a collaboration among artists, poets and graphic designers to put poems and art on the Grand Rapids urban transportation system,” in the tradition of an earlier initiative in London, England, she said. At SUNY Potsdam she helped create an interdisciplinary degree completion program, with design thinking and creativity as central features.

at luncheon

Dean Gretchen Galbraith, left foreground in white top, listens to a student researcher presenting results during a special luncheon in the Dion Family Student Center Roy Room earlier this summer. (photo Mark Tarnacki)

Because her prior institutions several times successfully restructured and rethought how they organize disciplines, her role in those processes provided Galbraith skills that might come into play for Saint Michael’s as it engages today’s market challenges. “It’s about relationships and rethinking how you do things,” she said, noting from her experience that solutions exist even given budget limitations such as those under which her prior institutions operated at times.

She hopes prospective students and families come to understand that few people opting for larger schools will have the chance to experience things like the intimate research lunch she attended for Saint Michael’s student-researchers and mentors at Saint Michael’s this summer. Her earlier work in a residential honors college role helped her learn a lot as an insider about admissions, housing, student life and the “silos” that she feels an effective dean needs to understand beyond just the academics realm.

Galbraith said she appreciates support from her three Saint Michael’s dean predecessors: The now Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower, the former dean and now Director of the Center for Global Engagement Jeffrey Ayres, and the most recent former dean Tara Natarajan, who is now at Earlham College in Indiana.

Galbraith and her husband, Peter Anderson – a classicist and longtime professor who now does leadership coaching rooted in ancient Stoicism — were married eight years ago at Rock Point, she said. Their blended family includes one child finishing college in Vermont and two in Canada, along with a dog and cats.

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