Gatepost Interview: Dr. Susan Dargan, interim dean of social and behavioral sciences
By Phil McMullin
Can you briefly describe your resume and educational background?
I graduated from Natick High School and then I went to Simmons College in Boston which is a small women’s college. I loved that. I majored in Sociology and Government with a minor in Spanish. Then I went on to Boston University and got a Ph.D. in Sociology with a specialization in Race and Ethnic Relations. I got to study under Howard Zinn. I started here in 1987 as a part time lecturer in the sociology department. I liked the faculty and students, so I became temporary full-time for a while and then when I got my Ph.D. I became a tenure-track faculty member. Shortly after I got tenure, I was department chair for six years. Last year I was a faculty fellow, and this year I’m an interim-dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Since I’ve been here I’ve co-chaired the Diversity Committee. That’s really important to me. I direct the Center for Globalization in the summer, which is a center that runs institutes for K-12 teachers in topics related to global and multicultural education. Last summer we did Teaching About China for middle school teachers, and the summer before that we did Teaching About Brazil. I was very active in the faculty union. I was vice-president of the local chapter until I took this job.
What are some of the challenges of this new role?
Learning the role. We’re founding deans, so we know some of the roles and responsibilities that we have, but it’s going to unfold through the year. It’s a year of change. I was just at a meeting where we were talking about changes in the graduation ceremony because we now have colleges. There are all sorts of things changing, so a challenge is working with the change. Overall it’s been really enjoyable so far.
What are some of the benefits of having this new structure?
We’ve gone from a very centralized academic affairs structure to something that’s more decentralized. The people who are in contact with the chairs and the faculty in the different schools are closer to them, in a sense. There are six chairs in my college, where as before there were something like nineteen or twenty chairs that all reported to the vice-president for academic affairs. She did a great job, but it’s really hard to get to know all those departments well. Working in smaller groups, we can actually accomplish more. We can spend a lot of time focusing on the issues and needs of a few departments. We’re sort of trying to find our identity as a college. I think the thing that is really good about the way Framingham State did it is that they waited for the bargaining process to end, so that the union and administration agreed on what the deans would do in terms of evaluating faculty.
So the evaluations changed?
Yes. The deans are going to have a key role in personnel evaluations. The vice-president of academic affairs still has authority over these decisions, as does the president in many cases, but the ground work is going to be done by the deans. That’s a big change.
What qualities do you think the future deans of this college should have?
Well, you want people who have the trust of the faculty. You have to be able to work with faculty and respect what they do and support them. They have to understand that you’re there for those reasons- that you’re not here for your ego. I think deans should value interdisciplinary education, too, because we have a lot of energy around that here, and we have to keep moving forward.
Do you think the chairs are getting enough support?
Well, they would probably say they want more faculty. Some departments have too many part-time faculty members. We love our part-time faculty members, there’s some fantastic ones, but the percentages have gotten higher, as they have in many institutions. There’s a hiring plan to address that. Chairs have a lot of demand put on them. It’s a tough job, but it’s very rewarding.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like bicycling, but I don’t get to do it enough. I like to read, but I don’t get to do it enough. I like to travel. Also, everybody knows that I love the Boston Red Sox. I have a small season ticket plan. I’m not very happy with them this year, but I was happy with them last year.
Have you traveled anywhere recently?
Yes, I got to go to China this summer to teach a course through the International Education Program. Kelley Matthews in the English department and I went and taught in Shamin, China for two weeks. We had the most fantastic time.
What class do you think every student should take before they graduate?
I would say Race and Ethnic Relations. I think it’s very important for people to understand the various histories of people in the United States and consider the experience of being a minority. That was interesting in China, to be a visible minority.
What was your favorite course in college, and why?
I liked so many courses in college. I loved an African American poetry class. The professor was outstanding and I could relate it to sociology.
How would your students describe you?
I would hope they would say that I’m challenging. I really believe in challenging students, and I think we’re here to get them to the next level. I really do want them to think about things, and my assignments are not rote memorization in any way, they involve a lot of thought. They would also say that I have a sense of humor. We have fun in class, but I really think we’re doing students a disservice when we don’t challenge them.