Seven new department chairs have been appointed in the College of Liberal Arts, UT’s largest college. Four are women, making one-third of the department chairs in the University female.
Kristen Brustad, Dan Dixon, Mary Neuberger, Jill Robbins, Christine Williams, James Pennebaker and Cory Juhl were appointed as the new chairs.
Department of Middle Eastern Studies Chair Kristen Brustad said there is still work to be done to achieve racial and gender equality.
“One-third of the chairs at the University are women,” Brustad said. “I think that it is excellent so many incredible women are being promoted. But we still have a long way to go with other minorities. We have made a lot of progress.”
Brustad said big changes are on the horizon in Middle Eastern studies. The department is consolidating its majors to offer one major in Middle Eastern languages and cultures, instead of several in Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Turkish.
She said she feels honored that her colleagues are confident in her abilities.
“The support of the department means a lot to me, and I’m excited to be working with a really dynamic and excellent group of faculty,” Brustad said. “That’s what encouraged me to accept this position.”
Jill Robbins was named chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. All chairs receive a pay raise and two months of summer salary, but Robbins said pay was not a deciding factor in taking the position.
“I was driven by my belief in the mission of this department, in the strength of our faculty, students and staff, and in our future as the top department of Spanish and Portuguese in the country,” she said.
Robbins said she is already taking steps to improve the department by setting aside endowment funds for graduate student research, revising and updating the curriculum and expanding the faculty.
The department chair job requires more multitasking and availability to other members of the department, she said.
“Being chair is a heavy responsibility and takes a great deal of time. In addition to more paperwork, I will be spending more time with my colleagues, administrators, staff and students but in a different role,” said Pennebaker, the new chair of the Department of Psychology.
He said he feels honored to be chosen as the chair and is excited for the challenge.
The Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies chair Mary Neuberger said that this new position will require less teaching and more decision making.
“There is a lot of diplomacy involved between faculty, students and administration,” Neuberger said. “It’s more stressful.”
However, her experiences have taught her a lot about how the University is run.
Neuberger’s department is in danger of being cut, but she said she is optimistic in saying “leadership is necessary in a time of crisis.”
“It’s challenging, but I think in a good way,” she said. “We can step up and shine and make things work.”