New Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser discusses his career, plans for Tufts’ future

Dr. James Glaser has recently been appointed dean of the college of arts and sciences after serving as the interim dean. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Earlier this month, James Glaser became the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences after six months serving as the interim dean. The Daily sat down with Glaser to discuss his new official position as dean and his plans for Tufts. 

Tufts Daily: You’ve been at Tufts since 1991. Can you describe your Tufts career up to this point and how it’s led you to your current position as dean of arts and sciences?

James Glaser: Sure. Well, the first thing I would say is that when I arrived here in 1991 I had no idea that I would end up here in 2015. My career path has been unexpected, but filled with surprise and filled with a lot of excitement. Throughout this entire period of time I’ve been a professor in the political science department. I worked my way up through the ranks in the department, and I continue to be a proud member of the Political Science department.

In 1999 I became the chair of the political science department shortly after I got tenure. In 2003 I became dean of undergraduate education, a job that I got in part because I participated in President Bacow’s Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience, which was a very enriching, exciting experience, and as dean I was able to implement many of the recommendations of that task force. In 2010 I moved here to Ballou where I served for four years as the dean of academic affairs, and for the past six months I’ve been interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and for the past week or two I’ve been the dean. So I’ve had a lot of different positions here, and it’s been very enriching to have all these different opportunities to do all these different things.

TD: So you said that it was “unexpected,” the way that things panned out—

JG: Right. Which I hope students will look at and say, you know, we don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen in our lives and in our careers. They evolve and sometimes they evolve in strange and exciting ways, and that’s certainly been the case with me.

TD: What was the process by which you were selected for the position of dean?

JG: Well, there was a search, there was a search committee that was comprised of faculty and administrators. It was run by the provost, Provost [David] Harris. As I understand it they brought in about eight different candidates to interview them, and then they narrowed the field down to two or three finalists and then I was selected out of that group. Many dean searches operate with those sort of two layers of process.

TD: What exactly does the dean of arts and sciences do? What do you have the power to change?

JG: The dean is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school. That doesn’t mean that I’m involved in every decision that happens in the school, but I am connected to the management of all the different parts of the school, and I am responsible for conceiving the grander vision of the school, of course in consultation with my colleagues and of course in consultation with faculty. And I’m responsible for trying to generate some of the resources available to meet that vision, and I’m responsible for allocating resources throughout the school so that the different departments, the different programs, the different units, the different organizations can reach their goals and ambitions.

TD: You have nine Strategic Goals for 2014-2015. Which of these, if any, is a significant change from past policy?

JG: We’re building on the past and we’re trying to forge new ground as well. You know, I’m very excited about some of the things that we’re hoping to do, particularly—and I think students will be most interested in this — we’re hoping to lead some changes in the curriculum and some changes in our departments. We would love to see and are working with our colleagues in the departments to get community health to departmental status, probably in combination with another department; a major in education; a minor in nutrition and food studies; a major in film and media studies. These are all very exciting curricular initiatives that are going to, I think, create opportunities for students to do very exciting things while here at Tufts, and then beyond when they shoot out into the world.

TD: One of your goals is to support a diverse and inclusive environment. How will you achieve this? One of the bullets under this [Strategic Goal] is to reinvigorate the Diversity Fund—what exactly does that mean?

JG: The Diversity Fund has had a number of different incarnations in the past couple of years, and it was not fully utilized last year because I think we hadn’t set it up correctly. We have sort of redesigned the process by which faculty and staff can request support from the Diversity Fund, all the time involving the faculty on the Equal [Educational] Opportunity Committee, and we’re hoping that we have at the end of the day more and better programming for events and programs with diversity themes.

Additionally, the deans who are responsible for supervising the departments and I will continue to work with the departments to diversify our faculty. We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years. There’s nothing new that I want to do here, there’s just something sustained that I want to do, which is to approve positions where we have opportunities to diversify and work with departments to assure that we have diverse pools of candidates as we hire new people for the faculty. We’re in the middle of hiring season right now, so it’s too early to say what this year’s results will be, but we have as a general goal … to have as diverse a faculty and as diverse a student body as we can.

TD: Tufts has a new chief diversity officer. Do you plan to work with him in any regard?

JG: Yeah, I hope so. I’ve only met him once when he came through to interview. He seemed like a very capable person, and I look forward to partnering with him. Of course, he’s got a big job, and he’s going to be working across all the schools, so all the deans – I hope – will have a relationship with him.

TD: How do you plan to maintain accessibility to a Tufts education, which is another one of your Strategic Goals?

JG: There are sort of two ways to define accessibility. One is through dollars, and the other is through accessibility for students who have disabilities of various kinds. We’re putting more resources into our accessibility services in Dowling Hall. There are some very, very talented students who we’re not serving as well as we hope to, and we hope that what we’re able to put into place will work better and for more people. Accessibility also means making sure that the education that you offer is available to as broad a swath of society as it’s possible to sustain. It really requires financial aid. Tufts is a full-need institution. There aren’t actually all that many institutions that are full-need institutions. We’re not need-blind, but we are full-need, and that actually is an expression of our values. In my mind it’s a very virtuous policy.

It means that if your need changes, we are committed to changing your aid package, and that was very apparent in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. That’s an expensive policy, but it’s the right thing to do. Financial aid is a hungry beast. It is very expensive to provide financial aid to the many students who have financial need and could not attend Tufts without the kind of help that we provide. It’s hugely expensive, and part of my job as dean and part of the job of my colleagues in the administration and in our advancement operation is to raise the funds to make it possible to provide as much financial aid as we possibly can.

TD: And those funds would be coming from alumni donations?

JG: Yes, that’s right.

TD: My last question for you is: What are you most looking forward to as dean of arts and sciences?

JG: I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to make this place as good as it possibly can be. I have great hopes for this place. The material is here for us to be a superior place in terms of the creation of knowledge and in terms of the transmission of knowledge as teachers to our students. I’m very excited to help implement the [T10] Strategic Plan, which is a plan that has been put together by faculty and representatives from the student bodies—the undergraduate student body and the graduate student body—[that] plots out a five to 10 year plan for the school and [that] we hope will improve our facilities in many different places, boost graduate studies so that it’s really operating at the same level that our undergraduate programs are operating at, and continue to be able to make Tufts an accessible place, a place that’s open to lots of different kinds of people and to be a full-need institution. So those are the three grand goals of that Strategic Plan, and I am looking very much forward to taking that blueprint and pushing forward the agenda that’s in that blueprint.