New dean prepares to take over financially struggling college
Following an exhaustive search, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences selected a new dean. Antonio D. Tillis, the dean of the School of Languages, Culture and World Affairs at the College of Charleston, will take over UH’s largest college on Feb. 1.
Tillis is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He was named a Professor of the Year while a faculty member at Dartmouth College and studied in Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar.
“This job is kind of like drinking from a fire hose—you need to find ways to solve your problems and not get too overwhelmed,” said Steven Craig, an economics professor who’s served as interim dean for CLASS for two years.
“The whole University is trying to improve itself, so everyone is on the same page, and I’m sure he gets it that the colleges are a team.”
Prior to serving in his position at the College of Charleston, Tillis was the chair of African and African-American Studies at Dartmouth College, where he also won a Professor of the Year award in 2012. His research focuses on Latin American, Afro-Latin American and African Diaspora studies.
Tillis also co-edits a series titled “Black Diaspora Worlds: Origins and Evolutions from New World Slaving.”
“I was attracted by the University’s commitment to academic excellence, its diverse student population as well as its mission to be the city’s premier academic institution,” Tillis said. “The city’s rich ethnic populations, its strong tradition in the performing arts, as well as its breadth of culinary delights make it a most attractive place to work and to live.”
Following the decision to hire Tillis, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Paula Myrick Short released a statement emphasizing Tillis’ qualifications and his vision for the future.
“I am proud to announce Dr. Antonio Tillis as the next dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences,” Short said. “Dr. Tillis brings strong experience and enthusiasm to the college leadership role, and I look forward to working with him.”
Tillis may be taking charge of a college facing financial problems.
When Craig first took over as interim dean of CLASS two years ago, his first goal was to help the college find financial stability. Craig worked with the provost and other administration to secure more funding for CLASS.
“Financial stability was a two year project,” Craig said. “Year one went smoothly, but year two was a bit rougher because we took a budget cut. We did not have as much money as we hoped. We tried to save up and build up money, but it was spent quickly.”
According to Craig, the financial woes that the college might be facing will only grow more daunting.
The state legislature plans to impose a budget cut on the University next year, which could influence future CLASS plans, like a new program fund, which the college uses for project funding and overall improvements.
Craig said that building this fund would signify that the college has come back from its financial imbalances.
“There might not be very much new money,” Craig said. “We have some resources (for the program fund) in theory, and if you start a new successful program, the money goes back to the college. UH doesn’t have a formal way to encourage new programs, so it’s up to the entrepreneurship of the programs.”
Under the direction of Craig, the college helped spin off the new Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, which broke away from CLASS in 2015. The move has dropped the CLASS enrollment from 11,517 students in Fall 2014 to 10,948 students in the Fall 2016. The college, under Craig’s direction, has also added several new hires to the faculty list.
“We sharpened our college and we are building strength in weaker areas,” Craig said. “We have done more senior hiring than in the past, which reflects our rising status all around. An interesting thing is that our faculty turnover was very low, which means people are pretty happy.”
On Feb. 1, Craig will go back to the Department of Economics and continue what he considered some of the best research of his career.
“I am looking forward to working closely with CLASS colleagues to identify areas of academic innovation that will enhance undergraduate and graduate education at UH,” Tillis said. “I also look forward to interacting with faculty, staff and students as well as engaging the surrounding community.”