Two days after a unanimous vote from the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) Board of Trustees to succeed Mark Huddleston as the University’s (UNH) next president, James W. Dean, Jr. took time on Friday for an over-the-phone interview with The New Hampshire to discuss his views on current events and issues on campus, as well as his past academic experiences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
Prior to his UNH selection, Dean entered UNC as an associate professor at the Kenan–Flagler Business School. He was later chosen to lead the college’s full-time MBA program for four years.
Following five years in the school’s executive education program, Dean was promoted to Senior Associate Dean of the Business School for only a year before being appointed by the UNC Chancellor to be the Dean of Students. Five years later, he was promoted to UNC provost. Dean noted that the roles of the UNC provost and dean are flipped compared to UNH.
In addition, Dean served as a professor of organizational behavior, a branch of social science in which, students, “try to understand how organizations work and how to help them work more effectively,” according to Dean.
Speaking on how his appointment reflects upon his past experiences, Dean said that the decision is “gratifying” and represents “a lifetime of leadership and service.”
Concerning recent cuts to the College of Liberal Arts and the Thompson School of Applied Sciences that have sparked conversations about administrative transparency, Dean said that it is “always unfortunate…when people have to lose their jobs,” and that he faced similar dilemmas during his time at UNC, having to layoff faculty for a “wide range of reasons.”
However, Dean admitted that he was “reluctant” to comment on specific details because he, at the time, had not been fully briefed on the issue. Dean responded similarly regarding what steps he would take to improve transparency, stating that while he desires to make the relationship between the office of UNH President and the student body “as transparent as possible,” he acknowledged that it was “hard to say” what exactly he would do prior to learning more from briefings.
In regards to conflicts of cultural appropriation versus First Amendment rights, Dean commented that issues concerning cultural appropriation, “have gotten more notice over the last few years,” specifically referencing an example in which President James Ramsey at the University of Louisville in Kentucky entered “hot water” in Oct. 2015 for posing in Cinco de Mayo photographs while sporting fake mustaches and sombreros, according to an Oct. 2015 article from the Courier Journal.
“…this is certainly not an issue that is limited to the University of New Hampshire,” Dean added. “…All over America, people are in conversations now, especially on college campuses about the relationship between those two things.”
However, Dean added that, “there’s actually very little that universities can do to constrict people’s right to speak” without infringing upon First Amendment rights, and that public universities, as “instruments of the government” are “responsible for protecting people’s First Amendment rights.”
Dean also stressed that a university is consequently “not within its legal right” to, for example, block people from “dressing up in a certain way” on Cinco de Mayo, and that any official punishment inflicted on students by the university for those actions would not only be a violation of Supreme Court decisions ruling in favor of the First Amendment in such circumstances, but also increase the university’s likelihood of being successfully sued by afflicted students for “aggravating their First Amendment rights.”
In spite of the legal risks, Dean said that, from a “cultural standpoint,” a university like UNH could try to, “help people develop some sensitivities about issues like this,” such as one racial or ethnic group’s culture becoming a “hurtful” “caricature” for another group’s enjoyment, even if they do not fully realize that they are acting offensively.
In his life, Dean said he is motivated by his “commitment to higher education,” adding that he is the first generation in his family to go to college and that he loves being around “smart and curious people.”
The president-elect also took the time to praise Mark Huddleston and credit his “stamina” during his eleven year-long term, the longest in UNH history.
“…my observation is that President Huddleston has managed a really high level of engagement and enthusiasm and activity for that entire period of time, which is really, really impressive,” Dean added.