Our news director, Sam Fahmy, sat down with new Franklin College dean Alan Dorsey for an article published in this week's Columns. Here is Sam's article in full.
Alan T. Dorsey takes the helm of the university’s oldest, largest and most academically diverse college
By Sam Fahmy
When Alan T. Dorsey became dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences on July 1, he took the helm of a college that educates more students and has more faculty and staff than all but six units of the 31-member University System of Georgia.
Needless to say, he’s been busy.
“Being a dean is the world’s best continuing education,” Dorsey said, reflecting on the diversity of disciplines within the college. Much of his time so far has been spent learning about the college’s 30 departments, its centers and institutes and getting to know its faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters.
Dorsey comes to UGA with nearly 25 years of experience in higher education, most recently as associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics at the University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is both a product and a proponent of flagship research universities and the transformative role they can play in the lives of students and in the world at large. “I’ve spent all of my career in higher education, and I believe in the education that we provide to our students and in the importance of faculty scholarship and research,” Dorsey said. “Administration gives me a chance to influence that in a small way, but hopefully in a meaningful way.”
His work in theoretical physics explores what happens to matter under extreme conditions, such as temperatures near absolute zero or high magnetic fields, and he notes that it wasn’t until his undergraduate studies at Cornell University that he realized that physics was a viable career option. Expanding the horizons of possibility for students is part of what a great university does, he said, and the sheer number of disciplines in the Franklin College provides opportunities for students to find majors and interests they might not have been exposed to otherwise.
Nearly half of the university’s total enrollment is in the Franklin College, and all of the 26,000 or so undergraduates on campus take foundational classes from the Franklin College in disciplines such as English and the sciences. Some aspects of the education that the college provides can be measured and benchmarked—the significant amount of time that students spend outside of the classroom on academic work or their acceptance rates to leading graduate and professional schools, for example. Other aspects are difficult if not impossible to measure, Dorsey said, but just as important. “After graduation, are students going out and having rewarding lives—not just jobs, but also lives?” he asked. “Do they find that the U.S. history course they took has helped them understand the political system and has informed them as voters, for example, or do they find the course in biology that they took means that they can have more informed discussions with their physician? The liberal arts education hopefully touches on many facets of life.”
He noted that the diversity of disciplines within the college and across campus also presents tremendous opportunities for collaborative faculty work. At the University of Florida, he partnered with colleagues in the College of Education on a program called UFTeach that helps science and math majors complete the state’s K-12 teacher certification requirements and alleviate the shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educators.
As department head and later as associate dean, he prided himself on being accessible and attentive to the needs of faculty, staff and students. “Often quiet competence was my goal, which was not to be flashy but just to make sure that everybody had the support they needed to get their jobs done,” Dorsey said. “And being dean is not so different in that regard. One of my goals here is to make sure that I’m supporting the faculty in the college, being the face of the college when necessary but also garnering support—whether it be state support or philanthropy, or contracts and grants—for our faculty’s scholarship and research as well as for student activities.”
He said that as the economy improves, he hopes to build on the momentum of the university’s faculty hiring initiatives and strategically replenish tenure-track faculty positions that have been lost to attrition. He aims to enhance the college’s budget through an increased emphasis on fundraising and explore ways to help faculty stay competitive in the increasingly challenging environment for garnering research grants from federal agencies and foundations.
The Franklin College was the first college at the nation’s first state-chartered university, and Dorsey said he looks forward to working with faculty and staff to build upon that history of leadership and innovation in higher education. “We want to honor the past and the knowledge and traditions that have developed, but also make certain that doesn’t bind us in ways that don’t allow us to explore new directions in scholarship and teaching,” he said.