Public-Affairs Dean Wants Research to Reach Policy Makers Faster

February 28, 2016

U. of Texas at Austin
Angela Evans
A ‘Get It Done’ Dean

Angela Evans was drawn to the deanship at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs for many reasons, namely the school’s national reputation and its history of informing critical policy debates. But it was the collaborative spirit Ms. Evans sensed throughout the school that sealed the deal, she says.

"I wanted to work in an environment where the students didn’t know everything," says Ms. Evans, who has been a clinical professor of public-policy practice at the school for more than six years and started as dean on January 16. "Consistently, I saw a group of students who were diverse and eager to exchange ideas, and collaboration was really something they excelled in."

Before going to Austin, Ms. Evans had a long career in the public-policy arena, including a 13-year stint as deputy director of the Congressional Research Service. Its analysts take the findings of research performed at universities and think tanks, she says, and put it together in a confidential, accessible format to provide potential solutions to legislative problems for members of Congress.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, for instance, Ms. Evans and her staff had to answer the question, What do we know about past hurricanes and how Congresses acted?

Her background at the agency, she says, has influenced one of her priorities as dean: making sure the research done within the school and across the university is available to policy makers in a timely manner.

One challenge for her since she became dean has been the relatively slow pace of academe. In politics, she says, the mentality was always "get it done, get it done, get it done."

Still, Ms. Evans has a lot of plans for the school. The institution recently enrolled its first class in a master’s-degree program that lets students complete the last six months of their education in Washington while working as interns in their field of interest. She is also focusing on fund raising, curriculum changes, and recruiting more top scholars, and she recently announced the creation of a Center for the Study of Race and Democracy within the school.

On top of all that, she is teaching a course. "I’m not telling everyone to" do that while serving as a senior administrator, she says. "But you’re always a little nervous when you teach. It keeps me on point." — Sarah Brown

A First for Consortium

William Vasta, Pitzer College
Melvin L. Oliver
Melvin L. Oliver, who has been chosen to be Pitzer College’s next president, says he wants the position in part so he can serve as a role model.

His mother left school after ninth grade, his father after seventh, but as he grew up in Cleveland, "they always supported my aspirations for college," he says. Thanks to a liberal-arts education, "over time I’ve had an amazing set of opportunities."

Now executive dean of the College of Letters and Science and dean of social sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he is set to take over on July 1 as the first African-American president of any of the five elite undergraduate Claremont Colleges.

The search committee at Pitzer, a liberal-arts college of almost 1,100 students, chose Mr. Oliver from an initial pool of more than 200 candidates, citing his mix of academic and administrative experiences and his fit with Pitzer’s culture, including its aspiration to diversify its enrollment and hiring. Students there have pushed for that change.

Since Mr. Oliver arrived at Santa Barbara in 2004, enrollment among underrepresented-minority graduate students in the social sciences has increased 40 percent. Similar success at the highly selective, expensive Pitzer, where 15 percent of students were Hispanic but only 4 percent were African-American in the fall of 2014, will require that officials continue to rally alumni and supporters toward that goal.

Helping him, he believes, will be his testimony that he was, as he puts it, "saved by a liberal-arts education," and how much his life story resonates with Pitzer’s own founding ethos of "the social transformation of its students." A sociologist, he helped found and lead the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty in 1989; in 1995, he and Thomas M. Shapiro published their book Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality.

From 1996 to 2004, as a vice president at the Ford Foundation, Mr. Oliver led a program that focused on building low-income people’s financial, social, and environmental assets to reduce poverty around the globe.

In his writing, he has noted that black Americans are inordinately confronted by pollution and similar hazards. Part of what attracted him to Pitzer, he says, is that environmental justice is among the many causes the college has long advanced. — Peter Monaghan

Learning From a Death

After Baltimore was rocked by demonstrations over the death of Freddie Gray — a black man who died last spring after suffering a spinal-cord injury while in police custody — faculty members at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, in Baltimore, wanted to continue the conversation in the classroom.

The result was a course called "Freddie Gray’s Baltimore," administered by Professor Michael Greenberger, that examines issues specific to the city. It is being offered this semester for the second time.

"After calm was restored, both the president and the dean of our law school made it clear that we had an obligation to help correct the dysfunctional social policies that were at the base of all this," says Mr. Greenberger, who was on a committee that came up with the idea for the course.

The course is co-taught by several faculty members, with prominent officials such as U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, and Leana S. Wen, the City of Baltimore’s health commissioner, coming in to guest-lecture. The spring version of the course includes a new segment discussing the implications of the trial last fall of one of the police officers charged in Mr. Gray’s death.

By popular demand, the class has been reorganized so that the last two hours of the semester are given over to the students for discussion. Both terms, the class has been held in the law school’s largest lecture hall — seating about 100 people — and its leaders still needed to turn away applicants.

"Students have been so engaged because they were really familiar with the problems from their own experiences," says Mr. Greenberger. "They have grown up in their own inner-city environments. They knew what it was like to deal with police officers or public-school education, and all the difficulty of education or housing or getting health care."

"Freddie Gray’s Baltimore" is also being taught this term as an eight-week undergraduate course at the University of Maryland at College Park. Students who enrolled in the course have come up with some ideas for improving policies, says Mr. Greenberger. One student from the fall wrote a final paper suggesting a curriculum for sensitivity training for police officers, and he is working with the law school and the Baltimore Police Department to try to put such training in place. — Angela Chen

Science Teaching Award

Todd Pagano, an associate professor of chemistry at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has been named winner of the 2016 Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher Award by the Society for College Science Teachers.

Mr. Pagano is founding director of the Laboratory Science Technology program at the university’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The program prepares deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduate students for technological careers in chemistry.

More than 60 students are enrolled in the program, and about 80 percent complete it, with 98 percent of those who graduate getting jobs or continuing their studies, university officials say. The students’ success rates on both of those measures exceed the rates of their hearing peers. — Ruth Hammond

Obituary: A Teacher of Ballet

Rosalie O’Connor
Violette Verdy
Violette Verdy, a famous ballerina and a professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, died on February 8. She was 82.

Ms. Verdy joined the university’s ballet faculty in 1996.

Born in France, she began her ballet training there during World War II. After several tours in Europe and the United States, Ms. Verdy was invited by the choreographer George Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet in 1958. She danced more than 25 principal roles with the company before retiring nearly two decades later.

She went on to serve as the first female artistic director at the Paris Opera Ballet and later directed the Boston Ballet.

In 2013, Indiana University at Bloomington’s chief, Michael A. McRobbie, presented Ms. Verdy with the President’s Medal for Excellence. He praised her dedication "to training future generations of dancers, including many who have launched successful careers at the IU Jacobs School of Music." — Anais Strickland

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Correction (2/29/2016, 11:55 a.m.): The item about Todd Pagano's teaching award originally stated that more than 60 students enroll each year in the laboratory-science program he runs at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In fact, the program enrolls more than 60 students total. The text has been corrected.