Barbara Brizuela was named new dean of academic affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences.

Education professor Brizuela becomes dean of academic affairs

Associate Professor of Education Barbara Brizuela (G ’96) was named dean of academic affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences, assuming James Glaser’s former role after he was appointed interim dean of Arts and Sciences on June 1. Brizuela, a former chair of the Department of Education, began her new position on July 15.

Alongside the other Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Nancy Bauer, Brizuela sits at the helm of department chairs and program directors in Arts and Sciences. Just as associate deans serve as administrative mentors to students, deans of academic affairs support faculty research and teaching.

“I think one thing I did not realize as chair, perhaps because no one told me, was just how available the deans are to answer questions, help out, meet [and] really be available,” Brizuela said. “You’re hesitant to bother the deans because you know how busy they are, but we’ll drop things in a second and attend to any urgent things that come up.”

The administrative reshuffle began in March when former Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney was named as the new president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., after serving as dean since 2010. A search began this semester to find her permanent replacement.

Meanwhile, Brizuela and Bauer report to Glaser. Both he and Bauer, who started her role in 2012, made vertical transitions within Arts and Sciences, originally coming from the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy, respectively.

Brizuela, on the other hand, came from the Department of Education, which is predominantly geared toward graduate students, according to Glaser.

“In this way, she adds something different to the leadership of the school,” Glaser told the Daily in an email. “As a longtime student of effective pedagogy, Dean Brizuela has much to offer the departments and faculty she will be working with.” 

While serving as dean, Brizuela said she will remain an associate professor in the Department of Education. She will also teach two courses this semester, work on three National Science Foundation research projects and mentor six PhD students.

Although her previous education research has focused on students younger than the university level, Brizuela said her studies regarding early childhood and elementary classroom models translate into tools applicable for Tufts. She said she recognizes the importance of “designing a learning environment where you are building on students’ ideas.” Brizuela explained that this goal often requires going beyond simply lecturing students.

“Research shows that just telling students something isn’t going to necessarily lead to learning,” Brizuela said. “Sometimes lectures can be really effective. I just think lectures aren’t always effective, and you need to use them as a tool only when you think they are.”

Brizuela said that she will not, however, instruct teachers how to teach. She does not have plans to revamp the common lecture model at Tufts, but she said she would instead support faculty interested in exploring alternative classroom models.

“It’s more about supporting faculty who want to explore other things,” Brizuela said. “That, I think, is the purview of my role. If a faculty member wants to engage in this kind of development, I want to be supportive of that, as opposed to a top-down approach, which I think would be not wise.”

One of Brizuela’s new responsibilities as dean, making hiring decisions, will be familiar to her, as she has participated in hiring decisions in the past. According to David Hammer, the chair of the Department of Education, Brizuela already has experience in this area, having hired him four years ago.

Hammer said it is Brizuela’s wisdom of thinking about the school on a larger scale” that sets her apart from others.

“Barbara has this wonderful calm wisdom that will make her a great dean and I think made her a great chair,” Hammer said. “She’s a tough act to follow. She gets things done, but with a calm surety to her that kind of rubs off.”

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