Purdue Profiles: Irwin 'Bud' Weiser, dean of the College of Liberal Arts

September 21, 2010

Irwin "Bud" Weiser, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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If there's one thing that Irwin "Bud" Weiser has learned at Purdue, it's that change is a constant.

In his 29 years as a faculty member, Weiser has watched his own academic home transform from the School of Humanities, Social Science and Education to the School of Liberal Arts to the College of Liberal Arts.

Now as dean of the college, Weiser is leading its latest change: shaping the college's identity following the recent realignment that created the College of Health and Human Sciences, which includes three departments formerly in the College of Liberal Arts.

"One of the things I think longtime faculty recognize about universities is that even though people think of them as steeped in tradition, they're very dynamic places," says Weiser, who became dean in July. "Things change all the time, and we need to embrace the changes that come. We need to recognize them as part of natural improvement and progression of the institution.

"This change for liberal arts gives us a much more coherent identity as a college that focuses on arts, humanities and social sciences, and I think the nine units that remain in the college are poised to reach even greater levels of excellence."

Work on the college's strategic plan was put on hold in 2009. What is the status of the strategic plan now?

When the conversation about realignment came up, the College of Liberal Arts was far along in its strategic plan process. John Contreni, my predecessor, very wisely decided that we should not move forward with the plan until we knew how the realignment was going to work out and what the college was going to look like.

Last spring, we assembled a strategic plan core committee and began meeting weekly. We were working on trying to articulate a sense of identity for the college as it's now structured. We broke for the summer, and our meetings have resumed this fall.

I'd like to have a plan in place by the end of this semester or early in the spring, but this is a process that needs time for participation by faculty, staff, students and others to make it successful.

How will the college articulate its new identity?

Everyone on the committee agreed that the University's priority areas -- research, teaching, and engagement -- are also important in this college. They are central to what we do. One of the goals we have in developing the strategic plan is to be able to clearly articulate how a college of arts, humanities and social sciences brings these elements together, what their benefits are and how we influence our students, community and the campus. Our challenge will be articulating specific goals for each broad area in terms of changes and improvements over time. This could involve procuring external support for research; increasing diversity of faculty, staff and students; and reviewing and potentially revising undergraduate curriculum.

What ideas have been discussed so far to increase research funding?

My office and the Office of the Vice President for Research have been working together to provide more support for the college, particularly for disciplines in the arts and humanities. The OVPR is assisting us in identifying appropriate places to seek external funding. Traditionally, especially for humanities scholars, it's been challenging to figure out which foundations and agencies will support areas such as historical or literary research. There are a fair amount of individual fellowships such as Fulbright and Guggenheim, but beyond those we need to make faculty aware of other means for external support.

We also have a new associate dean for research and graduate instruction. Professor Mohan Dutta assumed this role in August, and he has great ideas and enthusiasm for helping not only faculty in the arts and humanities but all faculty to support their research.

When you became dean, you mentioned increasing opportunities for students to participate in research. How will this be achieved?

We have an outstanding program for some first-year honors students called the Dammon Dean's Scholar Program. It allows a small number of students to work with faculty on research projects, but it would be wonderful if we could find ways to expand that program.

We likely will start by making this program available to more honors students and see what happens if we increase from around 30 now to 10 times that number. We will need to determine the scalability of the program, how we can make this available to every interested student, and how can we encourage students to participate.

What other goals do you have for the college?

We're working now to develop a center for research on diversity and inclusion. Purdue clearly has a commitment to diversity and inclusion. I think that commitment is most evident in our efforts to increase numbers of women and underrepresented groups across the University and to make this a campus that truly is a welcoming and inclusive place for people to study and work.

Those are important components, but I think that one piece of the picture that Liberal Arts can contribute to and take a lead in is through research that focuses on issues of diversity and inclusion, and equality and inequality. We can do this through the various interdisciplinary studies programs, including African American Studies, Jewish Studies and Women's Studies. We also have a number of faculty doing work on aging and the life course. We have political scientists who study international relations and are looking at issues of immigration policy. All of these things are important contributors to our understanding of what diversity means and more importantly what inclusion means and what an inclusive culture is.

By formally establishing a center, we can bring these conversations together and bring faculty, graduate students and undergraduates together. The center can sponsor symposiums and conferences, and interact with faculty from other parts of the University as well and with offices like Christine Taylor's [Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion] and the cultural centers on campus. The center will conduct, report and present research that helps us understand what challenges are to becoming a much more inclusive society.

It's an exciting endeavor, and my hope is that we will have a few activities this year to launch the center as well as conduct a national search for a director.

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