I am humbled to have been identified by colleagues and selected by the campus to help shepherd the College of Education as interim dean during this time of transition. I have called this place home since studying history and social studies education as a graduate student in the late 60s and early 70s, which also was a time when the campus was in a state of transition and grappling with its identity and values as an institution.
As we look toward the future and welcome a new dean of the College, all of us must commit to building upon and advancing the legacy of outgoing Dean Mary Kalantzis, who for 10 years passionately guided the College to high levels of success through a collaborative vision that embraced the promise of education for everybody, no matter what a person’s background was.
We are indebted to Mary for her foresight in areas such as online education, technology, faculty hiring, and community outreach. Under Mary’s leadership, we created cutting-edge classrooms and lab spaces; led the way on the campuswide Illinois Learning Sciences Design Initiative, which has attained significant external grants; engaged donors on a higher level to raise millions of dollars to support strategic initiatives; and built strong relationships locally and statewide through the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education, and the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative. That we are identified by U.S. News and World Report as a top-10 provider of online education is a testament to Mary’s vision and determined efforts. We are pleased to begin our new academic year with news that two of our faculty members have received substantial research grants from the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, with more faculty grants pending.
In addition, several faculty members have taken on new leadership roles: Denice Hood, a teaching associate professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership (EPOL), is the new director of online learning; Amy Santos, a professor in the Department of Special Education, is the interim head of her department; Yoon Pak, an associate professor in EPOL, is the acting head in her department during my tenure as interim dean; Chris Span, the associate dean for academic programs, is serving as the director of teacher education while Sarah McCarthey is on sabbatical; and finally, Jennifer Delaney, an associate professor in EPOL, will become our new director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education.
As the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign approaches its sesquicentennial celebration in 2017, my intention as interim dean is to sustain and build upon our College’s successes. The mantra I sometimes use—unoriginal as it may sound—is to “keep our eyes on the prize.” The prize, of course, is our students. Through all of the challenges of higher education, our students come first.
As a historian of American education, I’m continually impressed how education in the U.S. not only meets challenges but often supersedes them. For example, a study from 1950—a period many view today as a “golden age” of America—revealed that two-thirds of civilians in the U.S. workforce were high school dropouts. Not long after this finding education in America was made to be a higher priority, and most Americans became high school graduates and furthered their education status. The lesson here is that we must look deeper into the realities of education in America to see that real progress has been made, thanks to the commitment of those who care deeply about it. When the world invests in education, good things happen.
We in the College teach future teachers and leaders who will one day be living and working in an America where there is no majority population. Given this diverse demographic, we prepare our students for that future environment in a civically minded way, helping them realize the best in themselves, particularly those from underserved communities. We will continue here in the College to improve upon our energetic culture of unity and progressiveness, producing transformative practitioners who will go on to do inspiring work in education worldwide.
James D. Anderson, Ed.M. ’69 Ed., Ph.D. ’73 Ed.
Interim Dean and Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor of Education