After an extensive application process, the dean search committee selected Patrice Rankine as the University’s next dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, effective June 1. Rankine, the current dean of arts and humanities at Hope College and a scholar in classical languages, will replace Dean Kathleen Skerrett.
Rankine is passionate about academia and helping others, so he said the decision to leave Hope College and become a dean at Richmond had been difficult for him. But he said it had been the balance between his personal growth and what he could lend to others that finalized his decision.
“What we learned in our search process is the depth of his qualifications as a leader and as an administrator,” Eric Yellin, co-chair of the dean search committee, said.
Yellin led the search committee with Provost Jacquelyn Fetrow, who first announced Rankine’s selection in a campus-wide e-mail sent in mid-March.
The search committee consisted of 19 faculty and staff members, with each discipline appropriately represented, Fetrow said. Since this past fall, the committee has met with faculty, the student government and other organizations on campus to receive feedback regarding what people wanted in a new dean.
“We heard again and again from faculty and students that Arts and Sciences has wonderful programs and initiatives, but that it’s not always clear that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Yellin said.
With this information, Yellin said the committee needed a leader who could inspire others, but who also had the administrative experience to link faculty and students together.
Before Hope, Rankine served on the classics faculty at Purdue, where he started in 1998. At Hope, Rankine had been the dean since 2013 while also being a professor of classics and the chair of art and art history.
“He took new approaches to thinking for things we’ve been doing here for a while,” Richard Ray, the provost of Hope College, said.
Rankine founded an art museum and a musical arts center in only three short years at Hope.
“They’ve undoubtedly enriched and enlivened the intellectual flavor of the campus,” Ray said of Rankine's projects.
Ray also said that Rankine had led initiatives for clearer faculty tenure promotions and had introduced symposiums that brought students and faculty closer together at Hope, meeting three times a semester.
“It was just a great moment for us,” Rankine said.
The list continues. When Rankine is not acting as dean, he said you could find him in a local library delving into classical languages and literature scholarship. He earned his doctorate and his masters of arts in classical languages and literature from Yale University.
Yellin said what separated Rankine from the other finalists was his quick ability to adapt and learn.
“We’re fortunate to be welcoming a dean who has already adjusted to leading at a new place, and I think he’ll have a process in mind for getting up to speed,” Yellin said.
Rankine already has goals in mind. He plans to begin by addressing the disparity within arts and sciences faculty, specifically why women and minorities are underrepresented as full-time professors, even when they’ve had associate status for numerous years.
This plateau for professors, Rankine said, typically comes in the middle of careers, when other life stressors arise.
“I don’t think it would be possible for the students to have a really good experience if the faculty are burned out,” Rankine said. He hopes addressing this disparity could help lower, if not prevent, faculty burnout.
Fetrow said Rankine would spend time listening, talking and meeting with the School of Arts and Sciences faculty.
“I know that dean-elect Rankine is the person we need right now,” Fetrow said.
Rankine hopes that he will be seen as accessible to all students. At Hope College, he formed strong relationships with students that he plans to continue once he leaves.
Although he is saddened by leaving Hope, Rankine said he looks forward to this next chapter. In car terms, he compared Hope College to a Maserati that was stuck in a ditch with a flat tire.
“I’d like to think my energy has inflated the Maserati’s tire and moved it out of the ditch, out onto the open road where it can now begin moving,” Rankine said.
Still, he understood that his responsibilities would be different at Richmond.
“I know it’s going to be a steep learning curve,” Rankine said.
Even so, Yellin is confident in Rankine.
“It’s the same challenge facing anyone brought in from elsewhere to lead a big, complex institution,” Yellin said. “He has to swallow the sea and not drown. But he’s been there before, and I know he’s up for it.”
Contact reporter Matt McKenna at email@example.com