The University of Richmond has appointed the dean of faculty at Rollins College to serve as the new dean of the School of Arts and Sciences starting on July 1, six months after the departure of the former Dean Patrice Rankine.
The new dean, Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, has been at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, for 17 years and also currently serves as the Endowed Chair of Theater and Dance. Cavenaugh was previously the associate dean of Arts and Sciences at Rollins for four years.
Cavenaugh, whose father served as the headmaster of New York City’s Riverdale Country School, has deep roots in academics -- she was raised on the campus of the private school.
“I actually grew up with the school as my playground,” she said, “and I kind of joke that I never stopped being at school.”
After spending her undergraduate years at Dartmouth College pursuing a degree in policy studies, the New York City native worked as a middle school teacher in Brooklyn for eight years. Cavenaugh then earned a master's degree of fine arts at Brooklyn College in dramaturgy, and a Ph.D. in theater history and dramatic criticism at the University of Washington.
Cavenaugh, who is teaching a course on social justice this semester at Rollins, hopes she can offer assistance and celebrate the work of students, faculty and staff in her new role at UR, she said.
“You want to be at a place where everybody goes to work each day going, ‘I’m really glad I work here,’” she said.
The search committee, with co-chairs Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost, and Laura Browder, an American studies professor, began looking for a new dean last summer after Rankine stepped down. The 13-member committee included professors, alumni, Miguel Quiñones, E. Clairborne Robins School of Business dean, and senior Makayla Callender.
“The search committee, based on input from faculty, staff and students, was particularly interested in candidates with strong administrative and academic experience, exceptional communication and relationship skills and a commitment to a thriving inclusive liberal arts community,” Legro and Browder wrote in an email to The Collegian.
A search consultant who had successfully worked with the committee for years made the initial contact with Cavenaugh, Legro and Browder wrote. She completed an interview and in-person visit to campus before being selected, she said.
“One of the things that really stood out about [Cavenaugh] was her ability to help nurture faculty enthusiasm, creativity and collegiality,” Legro and Browder wrote. “We loved her deep commitment to equity and inclusion and the creative strategies she has used to foster these qualities at her current job.”
Daniel Palazzolo, the interim dean, is working with Cavenaugh through the transition. He was appointed last June after Rankine assumed the position of tenured classics professor at the University of Chicago.
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As interim dean, Palazzolo was able to approve the Africana Studies program and the Data Science and Statistics minor, and he split the Computer Science and Mathematics departments into two, he said.
“We’re really hoping to lay the foundation for the next dean so that she can come in here and just take off,” he said.
Palazzolo, who has been at UR for 32 years, will be leaving temporarily after July 1 to focus on his research and writing, he said. However, Palazzolo would love to finish his career in the classroom, he said.
“It's easy to get up every day and say, ‘I know this is gonna be hard work,’” he said, “but the reality is, it's worth it because the University of Richmond is a special place, and the School of Arts and Sciences is a special place.”
All UR undergraduates start their college career in the School of Arts and Sciences, where they are enrolled in two First-Year Seminar courses. With three out of five UR students declaring a major within the school, it is home to 23 departments and 11 interdisciplinary programs, with more than 300 faculty and staff members, according to its website.
Cavenaugh said she wanted to be worthy of the trust people placed in her by hiring her for this position.
“My goal is to build relationships, get to know people, listen to people, hear what they need, hear what they're thinking,” she said, “every campus has its own culture, and it's my job to come in and learn the culture at Richmond.”
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