Eric Arnesen is grateful for his current job at George Washington University, where he serves as the James R. Hoffa Professor of Modern Labor History and executive associate dean of Faculty Affairs.
When he was given the opportunity to become dean of the College of Liberal Arts, however, he said he couldn’t pass the opportunity up.
“Philadelphia is a great city, and Temple is a great institution,” Arnesen said in an interview. “When this came to my attention, it absolutely intrigued me.”
Arnesen met with a handful of graduate and undergraduate students from CLA in Anderson Hall Friday morning to discuss the current state of the college and future of the liberal arts.
He emphasized in his introduction why he chose to study history as a profession.
“I get paid to read, and I get paid to learn,” he said. “I am a perpetual student.”
He added that even though he is an administrator, he still is a scholar and writes academic papers as much as he can.
The difference, however, is the new responsibilities he has as executive associate dean—like deciding when to upgrade the phone systems in his department.
“I never thought when I entered the business, I’d be looking at phone literature,” Arnesen said.
He also talked about the energy on Main Campus, and how CLA needs to engage more with the outside community. He added he was optimistic about the future opportunities for Temple students.
One student asked about how the digitization of documents and records would affect academia moving forward. Arnesen said the shifting of records online had benefitted him greatly in his studies, but added there is still a gap between institutions that can afford them, and those who can’t.
Another student asked about the state of graduate education in CLA at Temple, and how many have said it has been difficult for them to find tenure-track jobs in today’s market.
Arnesen said that while tenure-track jobs and Ph.D programs had been in decline, professional development at Temple and other universities has improved greatly since when he was a student. He added that it’s important to use skill sets developed in college in a variety of ways.
“This is not a matter of ‘we have failed our purpose,’” he said. “I want well-trained people with great skills doing great things in our world.”
In a similar question, another student asked Arnesen’s opinion about the changes in certain CLA department—and how graduate students at Temple have taught undergraduate classes, perhaps without enough experience.
The George Washington University professor said it is important to treat graduate students fairly, and not to exploit them. Arnesen believes higher education has started to rely more on adjuncts and part-time professors, as they are cheaper than tenure-track faculty.
Currently, Temple has 3,793 faculty members—about 44 percent of which are adjuncts.
A graduate student in the African-American studies department asked how Arnesen would deal with the current state of that department. Arnesen said he studied topics concerning it at Yale University from 1980-82, and said whoever earns the job as CLA dean will have a lot more questions to answer about that from students, faculty and staff.
Following the meeting, Arnesen added that in order to assess the certain state of CLA, a lot more discussion still needs to occur between the finalists and administration and faculty.
“I think is a transitional moment for the institution,” he said. “Whoever you select for this position will have to make clearly, loudly, aggressively the case for the liberal arts.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.