Quest for new dean of humanities comes close to a conclusion

An in-house English faculty member will soon fill Biola’s dean of humanities post, which has been vacant for nearly a year.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

An in-house English faculty member will soon fill Biola’s dean of humanities post, which has been vacant for nearly a year.

The final candidates are Aaron Kleist, associate professor and chair of the English department, and Cassandra Van Zandt, assistant professor of English. The dean of humanities search committee, which includes Patricia Pike, undergraduate vice provost and five other administrators, has been searching for a new dean of humanities by word of mouth and posting ads on Biola’s Web site and in the Chronicle of Higher Education since Todd Pickett left the role last summer.

About 10 candidates submitted letters of interest for the job, but not all were qualified, Pike said.

“We had more interest from people than we had people who were qualified for the position, which is pretty normal in academia. People apply to things they might get, whether or not they’re qualified for them,” she said.

Kleist and Van Zandt weren’t among the original applicants, who applied from as far as Scotland. After Pike and the search committee reviewed the original letters of interest, then applications, the search narrowed to two serious candidates, both from outside Biola’s boundaries. Upon further interviews, however, the search committee decided one candidate didn’t have sufficient expertise in the humanities, and the other candidate voluntarily decided the timing wasn’t right to assume the position.

As the search committee considered possible internal candidates, Kleist and Van Zandt “came to mind,” Pike said. After much prayer and thought, the two English professors submitted their applications. Pike acknowledged that Kleist and Van Zandt don’t have the administrative experience a university typically expects in a dean. Their noteworthy academic, spiritual and leadership qualities, however, overshadow this deficiency, she said.

“They’re both very good at what they do. They both have a heart for Biola University and for their students. They’re both excellent scholars and teachers. And they both have an inclination to move into administrative roles,” she said.

The future dean will supervise six departments: English, history/government/social sciences, modern languages, philosophy, the Torrey Honors Institute and sociology. About 600 students are majoring in fields under these departments, and many more take their general education courses. Although deans tend to have more interaction with faculty than students, the future dean of humanities will likely continue to teach at least one class and serve as a “resource for students who want to field ideas,” Pike said.

“The dean is a role that sits almost in the middle, and so their influence really goes all the way up and down” for students desiring to “speak into the system,” she said.

Much of the $3.5 million budget in the future dean’s charge will fund faculty salaries, but the dean will also need to fairly and charitably meet the various resource needs across all six departments, said Jack Schwarz, interim dean of humanities. The leadership position will have its fair share of difficulties. The most prominent challenge will be maintaining a vision with limited resources, he said.

The incoming dean will also oversee the new chair of the modern languages department, who will soon be selected and announced. The new chair, in consultation with the dean and vice provost, will be responsible for developing the department’s curriculum. While Schwarz hoped to see the Spanish major reinstated, he didn’t explicitly express urgency for the dean to help resolve the matter immediately.

“I’m excited about these candidates. They’re both capable, competent people,” Pike said. “And they’re nice. And their hearts are great. And they’re both spiritually mature, which is really important. They both have ideas and excitement,” she said.

As of Wednesday, both candidates have undergone two days of interviews.

Now, Pike will make the final decision, a task she believes will be difficult. After Pike chooses the candidate, President Barry Corey and Provost Gary Miller will likely ratify her decision, she said. The next dean of humanities will possibly be announced around mid-May, and will assume the position in either summer or fall.

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