A thank you to Dean of Faculty Denise Buell, ending her term next June

To the Williams community,

As I mentioned in my email earlier this week, Dean of Faculty Denise K. Buell recently informed me that she’ll step down from her deanship in June, to return to her faculty role as Cluett Professor of Religion. While I’m glad Williams will regain a deeply committed educator and scholar, I’ll also miss working with a wise and dedicated member of my senior team.

Denise wrote her own farewell email to the faculty after making her decision last month. But, given the many ways in which her work has benefited all of Williams, I want to pay tribute to the important role that she has played over the last several years in shaping the scholarly and educational profile of the institution.

Denise began her deanship in 2014, and has presided over a truly impressive range of initiatives and projects. Notably, she has helped diversify the faculty, including through many efforts co-led with Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99. Denise initiated hiring workshops to minimize bias and encourage best practices in faculty recruitment, and has been a leader in the Creating Connections Consortium (C3), a Mellon Foundation-funded project that engages doctoral students, faculty, and administrators from major research universities to diversify the faculty ranks at Williams and other leading liberal arts colleges.

Denise has also made it her priority to create robust professional development opportunities for our faculty at all levels. Working with her team, she created the popular “How the College Works” series, which helps tenured faculty understand college administration and operations. She developed new selection processes for faculty positions such as the directorships of the Oakley Center and the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford, tapping into their potential as leadership development opportunities. Her commitment to nurturing academic leadership also extended to programs she created to support academic department and program chairs. The latter are now evolving into plans for a course that will teach new chairs about budgeting, staff management, and other skills not imparted in most Ph.D. programs. This fall Denise has brought the same dedication and vision to her work as a convenor of the strategic planning working group on faculty and staff development.

Meanwhile, there was also all the “regular” work of a dean of faculty: Denise has chaired or served on numerous committees and participated in searches for an impressive 87 tenured or tenure-track faculty members during her five years as dean, including many hires in emerging or high-demand areas such as Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Environmental Studies; Computer Science; Arabic Studies; and Statistics. She has supported self-studies for units undergoing decennial reviews; worked closely with the Faculty Steering Committee and Senior Staff on issues from free expression to curricular innovation; counseled assistant professors and First Three participants, Bolin Fellows and Postdoctoral fellows. Meanwhile, under her guidance her staff have also supported the many Williams centers and programs that report to her office, including the Center for Development Economics; Williams-Mystic; the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford; the Graduate Program in the History of Art; the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance; the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures; and the Oakley Center.

This is a truly remarkable list, because Denise is a remarkable dean. In her five years in the role she has embodied much of what’s best about Williams’ tradition of recruiting college leaders from within the faculty. Her depth of institutional knowledge and strategic insight are complemented by her unflagging positivity and—as you can judge for yourself—seemingly boundless energy. Indeed, she has somehow continued to be an active scholar throughout her term, publishing seven articles and book chapters with two more in press, delivering 13 academic talks and co-editing a special issue of the journal Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches.

The Faculty Steering Committee has begun working to collect nominations for Denise’s successor as dean of faculty, but Denise herself is irreplaceable. I hope you’ll join me in congratulating and thanking her for her service, in helping her achieve her goals between now and June, and in welcoming her back to the teaching and scholarship she loves so dearly.