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SMC dean to step down at year’s end

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, September 29, 2005

Pat White, the Saint Mary’s vice president and dean of faculty responsible for launching the College’s Center for Academic Innovation and the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), announced he will step down at the end of the academic year.

White, who has served as dean since fall 2002, said he will take a year-long sabbatical “researching and writing” and will then join the English department as a faculty member.

After 17 years as an administrator, White said, he misses the classroom and daily interaction with students.

“This is a great job,” White said. “You are working with great people. It is an honor to be dean of faculty, but I have missed the connection with students. It’s time for me to write, to teach, to spend more time working a little more closely with the students.”

As a young academic teaching at Pfeiffer College – now Pfeiffer University – in Misenheimer, N.C., White said a position at Saint Mary’s was his “dream job.”

Although he never envisioned himself in an administrative office, he decided to apply for an opening as Saint Mary’s associate dean of faculty in 1988.

“All my life I had known about Saint Mary’s College and it was such a good school and I thought, ‘I am going to apply for this job,'” White said. “I came for the interviews and I fell in love with the place.”

White also said he was deeply impressed by the inquisitive and articulate student body. A question and answer session with students while he was interviewing, he said, was tougher than those he faced from the faculty. He remembered one student in particular who stood up and asked him whether he believed the College should have money invested in apartheid-ridden South Africa.

Looking for a candidate who could balance with her background in chemistry, then-dean Dorothy Feigl said it was White’s strong credentials in English that earned him a job.

“He has a very wide range of interests, and that was what we were looking for in that position,” Feigl said.

When White arrived on campus, his position was largely undefined. There had only been one dean of faculty at the College, six years earlier. White worked to establish himself, and Feigl quickly got a taste of what collaborating with White for the next decade would be like.

“The first year we worked together we had a major proposal, and we finished the proposal at 11 p.m.,” Feigl said. “We raced to the post office to get it postmarked before midnight.”

The post office was already closed when the pair arrived. Nevertheless, White knocked on the door and successfully entreated a postal worker to stamp their envelope.

Working with Feigl until 1998 and then with her successor Karen Ristau from 1998 to 2002, White proved himself to be an academic innovator and a brilliant grant writer.

Under White’s direction, Saint Mary’s hosted the first “Play of the Mind Conference” in 1992, an event which brought faculty and students from dozens of institutions across the country for a weekend creative and intellectual engagement. It ran for 12 straight years and was placed on hiatus for the Presidential search in 2003.

Hoping to foster faculty and curriculum development White founded The Center for Academic Innovation (CFAI) in 1993. The Center became the base for some of the College’s most respected and applied to programs including the Student Independent Study and Research (SISTAR) grant, a student-faculty research opportunity, and the Collaborative Study and Research Program (COSTAR), a faculty team research opportunity.

“He was very good at bringing creative ideas in how we could improve the intellectual environment of the College,” Feigl said. “He brought a lot of money to the College.”

Perhaps White’s biggest coup came when he wrote a proposal to establish CWIL, an academic think tank dedicated to women researching and educating in the field of intercultural relations on a local, nation and global level.

The Lilly Endowment granted the College an initial $12 million dollars – followed a few years later by additional money – and in 2000, CWIL was born. White went on to hire 15 CWIL fellows, some who later became full-time faculty members.

In 2002 Ristau announced she was stepping down as dean of faculty and White was named interim dean. Shortly thereafter, then-College president Marilou Eldred announced her retirement.

Not wanting to have both a search for a new president and new dean being conducted at the same time, the College dropped the interim from White’s title.

With Carol Mooney well established in the president’s office, White discussed his desire to return to teaching with her, and Mooney made the announcement to the faculty Aug. 17.

A national search for White’s replacement will soon be underway. A search committee chaired by Mooney and comprised of four faculty members selected by the faculty assembly, two faculty members appointed by Mooney and one student representative is being assembled in the next week.

Internal candidates are also being considered, College spokeswoman Melanie McDonald said.