New CLS dean hopes to be accessible

The College of Letters and Science (CLS) is welcoming Nicole Rae as the college’s new dean. Rae, the current Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at Florida International University, is originally from Scotland and received his doctoral degree from Oxford University. He will assume full responsibilities as dean on Jan. 1, 2013. Rae was hired to replace Paula Lutz, the longtime dean of CLS.

The Exponent recently sat down with Rae to get to know more about the CLS’s new leader.

Exponent: What drew you to MSU?

Nicol Rae: It was an opportunity to move up to the dean’s role at a top-rated research university. Also, the attractiveness of the location — it is really beautiful here in the Gallatin Valley. My experience is usually in an urban setting, so it will be nice to experience a college town like Bozeman.

E: The CLS is very large and diverse, and in your public forum you said it had the potential to become an “amorphous blob.” How will you address the issues in each department with the same level of attention to make sure this doesn’t happen?

R: I think paying attention to the mission and vision of the college is very important. The blob happens because it becomes so big. It’s something the dean has to be careful to avoid happening by giving attention to students, faculty and staff, and by making sure the processes within the college run smoothly to make sure the needs of students are being met. So, it has two dimensions and a major responsibility for the dean is to avoid “blobbery” within the college.

E: The current dean, Paula Lutz, has created a “dean’s student council” with representatives from each department within the CLS. Do you plan to continue or expand on this practice?

R: I’ll certainly continue it. I think it’s a wonderful idea. We’re here because of students and I think it’s important as leaders and administrators that we are responsive to students. I certainly intend to continue that and also any plans to interact with not only undergraduate but graduate students as well.

E: You will be earning approximately $8,000 more than the previous dean. How will you make sure MSU’s investment is worthwhile?

R: That’s my job — to demonstrate to everyone that the investment is worthwhile. I can only hope they see I’m worthy of the salary and the position. The responsibility and expectations are on me.

E: What should students expect from a dean?

R: Students should expect the dean to be visible and accessible. The dean should be in a position where students can easily find him for any problem.

E: Discuss your long-term career plans. Do you plan to retire as an MSU faculty member?

R: I would say, as of now, I have no alternative career plans. I’ve been in my current position for 24 years. This is a big move for me, but it’s not a stepping stone for something else. I’ve wanted to be a dean for a long time, and that’s my goal.

E: What are some major differences between universities in the United Kingdom and universities in the United States?

R: U.K. universities traditionally have been a lot more selective. [When I was a student] it was a smaller university system and it was very difficult to get admitted. Also, the U.K. had a very strict division between technical or professional education and undergraduate education. Letters and sciences were in the universities whereas programs like business were at the technical colleges. That has changed a bit toward the U.S. model where the technical colleges have moved toward becoming traditional universities.

The work U.S. students do in their freshman year is done in high school back in the U.K. When you get into the university it becomes more specialized. When I attended, students got their tuition paid and even got a support grant according to family income. That’s changed; they have switched to the U.S. system of loans and students paying tuition, except in Scotland. So, the U.K. students are feeling the same stresses that U.S. students do about paying off school debt.

E: Do you think there is anything U.S. schools can learn from U.K. schools?

R: I think most of the learning is in the other direction. The U.K. schools have turned to a U.S. model for admissions and financial aspects. I wouldn’t say that one system is superior than the other. The U.K. system does a lot of one-on-one learning because of the small class sizes. Thats my goal here for MSU — to achieve a smaller class setting.