The Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
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Dean's Message

In November, Thomas J. LeBlanc, former head of the Department of Computer Science and a Rochester faculty member since 1983, was inaugurated as dean of the faculty of arts, sciences, and engineering, and, as such, chief executive officer of the College. (For more on Dean LeBlanc's inauguration, see Rochester In Review.) We are happy to reprint here excerpts from his remarks on that occasion.

Choosing Well for the College

Let me share with you a secret: This is a fascinating job! Henry Rosovsky, a former dean at Harvard, likens the dean to a journeyman Salieri faced with a faculty of Mozarts--except that our Mozarts do biochemistry, Congressional politics, quantum optics, and macroeconomics. I like this description; "mentoring Mozarts" is a noble calling.

Like computer technology, the University of Rochester has been the focal point of enormous change. Over the past 150 years, we have evolved from a regional college to a national research university.

Our intellectual history has been written by giants in many fields: Lewis Beck in philosophy, Lee DuBridge in physics, Anthony Hecht in English, Christopher Lasch in history, Lionel McKenzie in economics, William Riker in political science, John Huizenga in chemistry, and Emil Wolf in optical physics. These faculty, and many others, through their teaching, research, and scholarship, have left a permanent mark on the University of Rochester, and they have bequeathed to our generation a truly renowned institution. We must not squander their efforts.

As the University continues to evolve towards greater administrative decentralization, the College will have ultimate responsibility for its own affairs. We in the College must take those responsibilities very seriously. We control our destiny, but we are not alone. We have available to us an incredibly valuable resource: 40,000 College alumni, many of whom love this institution and credit it for their success. It will be our job to connect, and in many cases reconnect, with the alumni, explain to them what is at stake, and invite them to join us in securing a bright future for the College.

To remain a great institution requires that we carefully plan for our future. Our plan, Rochester's Renaissance Plan, is now in its second year. The plan has many facets, but it is fundamentally about choices. We must choose, among those things that are desirable in a research university, those that are essential to this research university. We have the resources and the will to do many things very well, but we cannot do everything equally well. We must make choices, and our choices must be well informed and consistent with our priorities.

One of the choices we have made, central to the future of the College, is an investment in the quality of the undergraduate student body. This investment is based on a very simple premise: At equilibrium, in every private institution of higher education in the country, the quality of the faculty and the quality of the student body cannot be far apart. We cannot have a stellar faculty and nationally recognized graduate programs unless we also have an accomplished undergraduate student body.

At Rochester we have acted on this belief. In the long-term interests of the institution and its faculty, we have chosen to make a commitment of precious financial resources to our student body. There is no better long-term investment in the faculty of the College than to ensure that the students in our classes are among the best and brightest, that their education prepares them to successfully compete for the most prestigious and influential positions in their fields, and that their experience on campus transforms them into dedicated alumni for life.

We have also chosen to offer an undergraduate education that is based on the scholarly traditions and high standards of our faculty and that also meets the needs of our students. We are well positioned to succeed on both accounts. Under the leadership of Dean of the College William Scott Green, and with the sustained efforts of the College Curriculum Committee, we have a unique curriculum that is centered on student curiosity, faculty expertise, and disciplinary communities.

This curriculum is an innovation in higher education, and we have yet much to learn: We will learn how well students experience the intellectual community of a discipline within the context of our "clusters." (These are series of related courses that students take outside of their fields of concentration, to broaden and deepen their knowledge within all three of the major areas of learning--the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences and engineering.) We will see how the patterns of enrollments change across and within the disciplines. We will see if clusters influence the choice of major.

We already know that our curriculum offers new opportunities for learning and community; we see that in student demand for, and satisfaction with, Quest courses--small exploratory courses for freshmen and sophomores that teach collaborative problem-solving through extensive use of original materials and data.

We also know that the curriculum requires an engaged faculty to succeed. We must recognize the commitment of faculty to undergraduate curricular efforts, and support and encourage their contributions to an endeavor that is of central importance to the intellectual life, and the future, of the College.

While we embrace a renewed emphasis on undergraduate education, we must also remember the central role of graduate education in the College. Ph.D. students do not come to Rochester to support the undergraduate mission, although they do so as teaching assistants, project supervisors, and role models. Nor do they come to support faculty research, although they do that as well, as research assistants, lab assistants, co-authors, and co-inventors. Ph.D. students come here to do world-class research and to receive the training necessary to become leaders in their fields.

We choose to have Ph.D. programs and graduate students at Rochester because they are an essential part of a research university, contributing to all aspects of our educational mission. Graduate students are not an expense item in a budget; they are an investment in our reputation and our future. We must carefully nurture that investment, with energetic recruitment strategies, competitive stipends, opportunities for teaching and travel, and other career-enhancing mechanisms.

Most important, because everything else depends on it, we must continue to attract, retain, and cherish the best faculty. Within the setting of a small research university, we ask a lot of our faculty: to teach and advise our undergraduates, to mentor and train our graduate students, to compete successfully for national awards and grants, and to become internationally recognized scholars in their fields.

We must offer in return a vibrant intellectual community that values every individual. We must set high standards, and then aggressively pursue faculty who will surpass them. The most productive faculty should be recognized and rewarded, in salary, research support, matching funds for grants, and other tangible means. Our faculty are special people, and we should treat them accordingly.

An excellent undergraduate program, highly regarded and influential graduate programs, leading-edge scholarship, and a nationally prominent faculty: That remains our goal. It's a tall order, but it is one that is fully within our reach.

Thomas J. LeBlanc

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