Interim dean finds niche at University
Joseph Pratt will soon mark the end of his first month as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences while continuing to juggle roles as teacher, historian, author and editor.
‘As interim dean, my top priority is to keep CLASS running smoothly while we find a new permanent dean,’ Pratt said. ‘My key responsibilities are to help the departments continue to hire and retain good faculty members and to work to improve the quality of education available to students.’
Since his Feb. 26 appointment from Provost John Antel, Pratt’s initiatives have included creating a Masters of Public Administration program in the Center for Public Policy and facilitating student work with the research organization within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences that provides non-biased data for the Houston community.
Another project includes the creation of a liberal studies major, which would allow students to study courses in several different disciplines to create a specialized major.
As a Bauer College of Business faculty member, Pratt helped create UH Energy, a campus-wide initiative to expand energy efforts across the disciplines.
Pratt is also working with CLASS to create a council of student representatives to advise the dean’s office on important issues undergraduates face.
‘One such issue of great ongoing concern is advising,’ Pratt said. ‘We obviously need more advisers throughout the college.’
Nearing the end of his first month as dean, Pratt said the job has been both challenging and rewarding.
‘My most challenging job will be to manage the finances of CLASS in an era of hard times.’ ‘hellip; Given the current economic situation, budgets have to be a major concern for any administrator’ Pratt said. ‘The best part of the job has been the opportunity to work more closely with the various departments and centers.
‘CLASS contains a variety of interesting programs, ranging from the fine arts to economics, from communication disorders to Hispanic studies, and it has been great fun to visit these programs and learn their strengths as well as their problems.’
Growing up in Port Neches, a refinery town near Port Arthur, Pratt, the son of a fireman who worked at a petrochemical plant, developed a fascination for books, writing and the petroleum industry early in life.
With the help of his father and uncles, Pratt worked summer ‘shutdown’ jobs in oil-related plants to pay his way through Rice University and even wrote his honors thesis and dissertation on the history and impact of the petroleum industry.
‘My family did not have a television when I was young and I read all the time. From biographies to sport heroes to John Steinbeck and Mark Twain, I went through everything I could find in the library in Port Arthur,’ Pratt said. ‘A sixth-grade teacher wrote on the bottom of an essay, ‘You have a gift for writing,’ and I believed her.’
He received a Bachelor of Arts from Rice and his doctorate in American history from Johns Hopkins University.
Pratt has held a joint chair of history and management at UH since his arrival in 1986.
Before coming to UH, he taught at the University of California-Berkley, the Harvard Business School and Texas A&M University
Specializing in petroleum industry history, he has written histories of Amoco, the Texas Eastern Corporation and the National Petroleum Council and has also co-authored several other books on the petroleum industry. He most recently wrote a book on oil pollution in the U.S. petroleum industry.
‘I am particularly interested in the changing roles of the national oil companies of the major oil producing nations,’ Pratt said. ‘I also hope to write a book about how the U.S. became so dependent on oil. The clearest message to me right now, through the history of oil, is the need for greater emphasis on energy efficiency.’
He is working on a history of Exxon Mobil Corp. since the energy crisis of 1973 and edits the UH Center of Public Policy’s magazine, Houston History, which publishes three issues a year.
‘We have a good issue of the Houston History magazine at the printer right now, so I know that it is possible to juggle my various jobs,’ he said.
Pratt is the director of the Houston History Project, held the position of executive director of the Scholar’s Community and has received the Houston Alumni Organization’s award for an Outstanding Faculty Member in the CLASS.
‘When the chaired position I still occupy came up at UH in 1986 and I visited the campus, I knew that I had found the place I was meant to teach. As a first-generation college student myself, I love the diversity and the ambition of our students,’ Pratt said. ‘This is where I belong.’