Aiming for the Exceptional



Michael Mastanduno, who became Dartmouth’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on August 1, 2010, is a government professor and an expert on international relations. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Michael Mastanduno, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Professor of Government, began a five-year term as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on August 1, 2010. As dean, he oversees a portfolio of over 40 academic departments and programs that include more than 400 faculty members in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, interdisciplinary programs, and Arts and Sciences graduate programs.

Mastanduno first came to Dartmouth in 1987. A well-known expert in the study of international relations, his most recent work examines U.S. economic and security strategy in the post-Cold War world and the implications of the rise of China for the world economy and the stability of the international system. Mastanduno is a recipient of Dartmouth’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award for Scholarly Achievement. He has previously served as associate dean of the faculty for the social sciences and director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

“Focus on Faculty” spoke with Mastanduno this fall about his new role and goals.

Your appointment as Dean of Faculty is for five years. Looking ahead, what do you want to have accomplished when you reach that point?The most important priority is to preserve and enhance the quality, and, as needed, expand the size of the faculty. We’ve made great progress in the past five to ten years expanding the faculty so that now in many areas we have extraordinary teams of scholars in place. We want to continue to develop the faculty across the curriculum and provide the best support we can to enhance research and teaching.

How do you decide where to grow?We try to build on existing areas of strength and develop additional ones strategically. We look for opportunities for Dartmouth to be an intellectual leader, and we target areas of significant student demand. We also look for opportunities to develop research and teaching expertise across departments and disciplines.

Faculty lines are our most valuable resource, and every time there’s an opening there is an opportunity to make the faculty and the whole educational experience better. We want departments to be proactive and to think strategically about how recruitment can improve both the teaching and scholarship over the longer term.

Can you cite an area where that is happening?The social brain sciences is a good example of building on strengths and taking the intellectual lead. Dartmouth has put together a first-rate group of faculty in cognitive neuroscience and another in social psychology. Many of these same faculty members work at the intersection of these two fields, studying how the brain processes social phenomena and interaction. We are a national and global leader in this emerging field.

What does Dartmouth look for when hiring faculty?We’re looking for faculty members who believe their teaching contributes to their research and their research helps make them more effective teachers. We want engaged scholars who bring the passion of their work into the classroom and into their one-on-one interactions with students.

Dartmouth undergraduates are extraordinary, so teaching really does contribute directly to the research of many faculty members.

Has that been your own experience? Have students ever given you insight that you’ve been able to use in your own research?Very often. I ask students in my seminars on economic statecraft or U.S. foreign policy to read and criticize the papers I happen to have in draft at the time. Their ideas often inform later drafts. I have had Presidential Scholars over the years who have helped me rethink significantly my approach to a research problem at the early stages. Over my career, the connection between research and teaching has always been a close one.

How does Dartmouth respond when other institutions look to recruit faculty away from the College?We want faculty members who are good enough to be anywhere but who want to be here. They feel that the intellectual teaching and research environment is so superior for them, as well as quality of life, that on balance even though they could go to a different institution, they would rather be here.

Retention is, for us, much more proactive than reactive. We try very hard to identify our leading scholars and recognize and reward them. When many people think of retention, it’s often in terms of, “Professor X got an outside offer; what are you going to do about it?” I prefer we not get to that stage. If we do, then we make strategic decisions about whom to retain, and in cases where faculty members are outstanding, we will do everything we can to assure that Dartmouth’s offer is the more attractive one.

Are changes to the curriculum on the horizon?It’s important for the faculty to think through the curriculum and what we need to improve in it. I am always grateful to see Dartmouth receive high rankings on commitment to teaching, but we should continually be asking, “Are we providing the best possible education?”

Dartmouth’s curriculum is dynamic; pieces of it are always changing and evolving. But it is also important to examine it comprehensively, and we are in the next five years due for that type of review.

We’re going through a reaccreditation review this year; I expect that this will be an opportunity for us to have a very involved discussion as faculty about what we will be teaching. [Reaccreditation is a voluntary review process overseen by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which takes place approximately every ten years, and includes a thorough self-study.]

Is there any aspect of Dartmouth’s curriculum that needs particular attention?That’s an appropriate question for faculty to answer. But to give one possible example, Dartmouth is a leader in off-campus programs. Can we do it even better? Do we have the right coverage across our programs given the way the world is changing? Do we have the right disciplinary coverage? Should we try to find ways to make sure, for example, students in the sciences have as many off-campus opportunities as students in the humanities? Do we have the right distribution requirements in place? Writing requirements? Those are all important to think about in a curricular review.

President Kim emphasized the value of writing in his 2010 Convocation speech.I was so happy to hear that. Over a long career I’ve thought this is an area in which faculty members can make a major contribution. If you can sit down with students and work with them on how to communicate more effectively in writing, you have helped them develop a critical life skill. I think our Institute for Writing and Rhetoric is doing an admirable job in this area, and I look forward to working with them and supporting them.

In terms of writing and other critical intellectual skills, the first year at Dartmouth needs to set the right foundation, but it obviously can’t end there. There has to be conscious effort on the part of faculty, through all levels of courses we offer, to enable writing and communication skills as an important part of the learning experience.

How does supporting faculty fit in your role?The primary responsibility of the dean of faculty, in my view, is to be an advocate for the faculty. The dean and associate deans need to assure that salaries are competitive, support resources are effective, and that the overall environment is conducive to excellence in scholarship and teaching.

So your door is open?It is, but it’s not just about the door being open; it’s about the mind being open to the notion of advocacy as a key expectation for the job.

Kelly Sundberg Seaman