Third UI CLAS candidate aims to improve communication between faculty departments


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A candidate for dean of the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences stressed the need for cooperation among faculty at an open forum on Thursday.


Patricia Okker, the third of four candidates to visit the UI campus, told students and faculty members that educators from all departments need to understand each other for better overall education.

Okker said her role as a dean would have more to do with the skills of the faculty than her own.

"I see myself as a facilitator," said Okker, a current English professor and faculty fellow at the University of Missouri. "My job as an administrator is to bring [faculty] together and let the sparks fly."

She said communication is key to her goal of an interdisciplinary liberal-arts program, incorporating both the humanities and the sciences.

"There's an issue of complexity when you try to address the humanities," Okker said. "You have to look at things from multiple perspectives."

Interdisciplinary practices would offer students a new kind of liberal-arts education teaching basic skills many employers are seeking, Okker added.

"I want to emphasize the practical benefits of a CLAS education to students," she said. "All studies are ground in a similar foundation."

Her support of interdisciplinary education follows a push by UI computer-science faculty to incorporate more computer classes into general-education requirements in light of the subject's growing workplace popularity.

Okker said her previous concentrations at Missouri have introduced new technology, such as e-books, into old programs. This is key, she said this is key to keeping students interested in their classes.

"You absolutely have to keep what's new and exciting in classes to keep students interested," she said.

Alex Barker, the director of the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, said Okker's past work on that campus planning committee has shown her ability to bring people together.

"When we started talking about campus planning, she brought in all members of the planning committee and the director to look at the needs of the school," Barker said.

This approach was different from past heads, he said, who approved plans without consulting all staff members about their needs.

Though Okker said she has heard criticism of the Missouri interdisciplinary education program's integration with the sciences, she maintained the mix is beneficial to students.

"It's not to undercut the humanities in any way," she said. "It's just very old storytelling with new skills being added in."

Attendee Adrienne Zimmer said she was happy with the candidate's overall plan but would have liked to see Okker put more emphasis on other aspects of the college.

"Funding is always an issue," the UI junior said. "And alumni networks could be stronger here. Getting students to realize that they need to stay involved is important."

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