CLAS Dean finalist addresses balanced liberal arts program


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Peter Hahn said he would approach improving education at the University of Iowa by focusing on three key areas — professional research, graduate education, and undergraduate education.

Hahn, a finalist to become the dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he developed this "triangle" approach as a way to balance the college's education and research.

The basis for liberal-arts education consists of those three interdependent factors, Hahn said at a candidate forum Monday. Hahn is the second finalist in the search to replace retiring Dean Linda Maxson, who announced she would resign in July 2011.

Hahn, the head of the History Department at Ohio State University, stressed the importance of giving faculty ample research opportunities. Such faculty can better educate graduate students, who can in turn better instruct undergraduates.

"A vigorous research platform is important to bring benefits back to the university," Hahn said. "In teaching graduates, scholars can hone their own skills. But it's also important to have a good, solid major program."

However, one UI professor said faculty should remember to focus on their obligation to teaching.

"[Hahn] alluded to having a lot more classes that are taught by graduate students, similar to his courses at OSU," said Bob McMurray, a UI associate professor of psychology. "We want to make sure we have a very strong faculty presence [at the UI]."

McMurray said the difference between full-time faculty and graduate-student teachers is important because of differences in teaching strategies.

"The perspective the faculty have is something that graduate students don't yet have," he said.

But the plan, Hahn said, addresses the common goal of educators.

"I believe that at the core of what we do is to ensure that we're adequately educating the future generations to emerge as leaders of culture," he said.

Teaching has more value as it becomes more effective, he said.

"If you're bringing in the very best graduate students and faculty," he said, "the overall model provides essentials that make it cheaper and better than the alternative — small [private] liberal-arts colleges."

David Johnsen, the head of the UI's dean-search committee, said Hahn's experience was important to the committee.

"Professor Hahn is an accomplished scholar and has administrative experience," he said.

Hahn said he has been trying to stress the important of research to universities for years.

"Research is vital to liberal-arts programs," he said. "As a department chair, I frequently remind myself that I have two missions: research and education."

Nathan Rosenstein, the Ohio State History Department vice chairman, said Hahn's career has made Hahn a sought-after administrator.

"He is a very conscientious person," Rosenstein said. "He is somebody who tries to listen to all sides. Iowa would be very lucky to have him, and I will be very sorry to see him go."

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