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Liberal Arts and Sciences dean finalist Djalali speaks about faculty, funding, program balance

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | MARCH 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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The first finalist for dean of the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences voiced support for faculty benefits and the importance of promoting a liberal-arts education to the outside world at an open forum Thursday.

Speaking in the Chemistry Building, Chaden Djalali, the head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of South Carolina, spoke of his university's success in ensuring tenure and sabbaticals.

"Protecting tenure is very critical, and we have to stand for it," Djalali said. "I'm coming from a university that went through the same thing."

He also said universities need a teaching environment that relies more on experienced, accredited Ph.D.s than teaching assistants.

"I would like the students to not be taught by teaching assistants," Djalali said. "I fully understand why parents are complaining about that. We should not do that."

Djalali continued by comparing the UI's current financial issues — facing both a $20 million state appropriations decrease by the House and a proposed tuition freeze in a House committee — with South Carolina's, where state appropriations make up about 9 percent of the school's budget.

Tuition increases, he said, are sometimes necessary to maintain a university's quality.

"Compared to us, you have reasonable tuition," he said. "In-state tuition at the University of South Carolina is about $3,000 higher than it is here."

But tuition hikes must have some limits, he said, or the university will exclude too many talented students.

David Johnsen, the head of the UI's dean-search committee, said he was impressed with Djalali's remarks about the nationwide problem of university funding challenges.

"Every state university in the country is facing these problems," said Johnsen, the dean of the College of Dentistry. "And I thought he gave very thoughtful responses to the questions."

Loyce Arthur, an associate professor of theater and a search-committee member, said the committee focused on finding a candidate who could work multilaterally in solving problems, financial or otherwise.

"It was important that the person wants to work with everyone in the college — faculty, staff, and students — to find a solution," she said.

Djalali emphasized this approach in his remarks, and he said he hopes to promote interplay among math, science and the humanities in the university's liberal-arts program.

"We don't want to create what C.P. Snow called 'the two cultures,' " Djalali said. "That can be very, very destructive."

The liberal-arts school should pursue a better method of self-promotion and fundraising in light of recent criticisms of a liberal education, he said.

"It is a well-rounded education that helps us find meaning in our lives, and we do that by finding our strengths," Djalali said. "In our society that is driven by technology and science, I think that we have gone too far in focusing entirely on efficiency."


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