Art faculty navigate administrative shifts in wake of department’s loss

After the sudden loss of Loren Baker, art department faculty take on additional roles.


John Calley, adjunct professor of art, instructs his 3-D Design class. As the art faculty adjusted to the loss of chair and professor Loren Baker, full-time and adjunct professors helped to meet new needs in the department. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

Lena Smith, Writer

John Calley, adjunct professor of art, instructs his 3-D Design class. As the art faculty adjusted to the loss of chair and professor Loren Baker, full-time and adjunct professors helped to meet new needs in the department. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES


Nearly four months after the sudden loss of art department chair and professor Loren Baker, faculty are navigating the complex administrative changes within the department.

“Loren was an amazing chair,” said Jonathan Puls, professor and assistant dean of fine arts and communication. “However it looks going forward will be different. He had so much experience.”

Baker had taught at Biola since 2004 and brought more than 35 years of experience in teaching and higher education to the department. As chair, Baker managed many of the department’s day-to-day tasks, from signing senior petitions and substitution requests for students to meeting with constituents on campus and overseeing staff. Baker also taught part-time and served as an evaluator for the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

The significance of Baker’s responsibilities — as well as the effect of his absence on the entire department — is evident to the faculty daily.

“He did a phenomenal amount of work behind the scenes to keep [administrative tasks] off the faculty so we could teach,” Puls said.

Baker cultivated an environment of trust and freedom within the department, which enabled faculty to channel their energy into their classrooms and relationships with students.

“He offered safety and permission for us as a faculty to do what we wanted to do,” professor of photography Kurt Simonson said. “We could teach without being nit-picked. He really trusted us.”

Faculty shoulder administrative responsibilities

Along with the deep personal loss of Baker’s passing, the weight of administrative responsibilities fell on the faculty. They immediately came together to maintain the function of the department’s programs.

“Everybody stepped up really beautifully,” Puls said. “Fortunately, the art faculty are a great bunch of people that really pitch in, are very close and work well together. There’s been a lot of delegation of various administrative tasks.”

The shift in responsibility throughout the department resulted in what Puls described as a “domino effect” of changes for faculty.

Puls and fellow art professor Dan Callis assumed co-chair responsibilities for the department. To accommodate the amount of attention required for administrative tasks, other faculty members stepped in to cover classes previously taught by Baker, Puls and Callis. Both full-time and adjunct faculty stretched to fill needs across the department.

Search for new department chair in process

While recent changes sufficiently “patched together” the department as the fall semester concluded and the spring semester commenced, according to Puls, they are by no means long-term solutions.

“We’re in discussions with the dean and provost regarding how to shape the department moving forward,” he said.

Both internal and external candidates are under consideration as the department appoints a new chair.

“The options are to hire somebody from the outside or to convince one of the current faculty to take that on,” Puls said.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages like any administrative or managerial decision, according to Puls. With regard to internal candidates, the challenge is to recruit them out of the classroom for a more administrative role.

“We have a lot of talented teachers, but you loathe to take them out of the classroom any more than you have to,” Puls said.

Department grapples with personal and professional loss

For faculty, the complex administrative and professional decisions in discussion are deeply personal.

“As much as we were grieving, it was even more evident with the faculty, who had been with Loren for years,” senior studio arts major Patrick Gillespie said. “To see that was really difficult.”

In the wake of the department’s loss, faculty and students found refuge in their community.

“The professors were really accommodating to us,” Gillespie said. “I could see them caring for each other. I could see them caring for us and approaching each student individually in the process.”

Faculty will practice the same care for the department as they move forward in the months to come.

“It will take a while for the department to heal or even to be functioning as strongly as it was a few years ago,” Puls said. “We’re praying that God will bring the right person here to take the department to yet a better place than we’ve been.”

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