After a national search, the College has chosen a dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs from on campus.
Christina E. Sorum, the Frank Bailey Professor of Classics and the acting dean of faculty and academic vice president for the past year, was named to the post in April.
President Roger Hull said that Sorum received the “unanimous and strong support” of a search committee that had reviewed more than eighty applicants.
“Based on her broad professional achievements, her service as a professor and as dean of arts and sciences, and her contributions to the campus as a whole, I have no doubt that Christie will provide very strong leadership,” the president said. “The years ahead hold great promise for Union, and I eagerly look forward to working with Christie to fulfill that promise.”
A native of Jacksonville, Ill., Sorum graduated from Wellesley College with honors in Greek and received a Ph.D. from Brown University (her dissertation was “Monsters and the Family: A Study of Sophocles' Trachiniae”). She was a visiting instructor at Union in 1973-1974, became an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and returned to Union in 1982 as an associate professor and chair of the Department of Classics. She became the Frank Bailey Professor in 1992. In 1994, she was named dean of arts and sciences, a position she held until she became acting dean of faculty last fall.
In an interview shortly after the appointment, she said that one of her chief goals will be to continue to improve what the College does extraordinarily well — undergraduate research and international study. All academic departments should be able to offer their students the opportunity to do research, she said, and the percentage of students who go abroad should be increased from about fifty-five percent to eighty percent.
“Those experiences are the most transformative for both the personal and intellectual development of students, and they provide some of the best preparation for life after college — how to learn on your own, how to deal with difference,” she said.
Two other areas where she would like to see the College invest more resources are the arts and engineering.
“Participation in the arts ought to be available to every student,” she said. “Few things are more rewarding after college than having an active interest in, and participating in, the arts.”
Given engineering's strong tradition at Union, she said, “we need to ensure excellence. I want to continue to work with the dean of engineering [Robert Balmer] and the rest of campus to discover the proper role of engineering on a liberal arts campus — how it can enrich the rest of the College, and how the rest of the College can enrich engineering.”
She said the College must continue to pay attention to the “more traditional” elements of education — communication skills, quantitative skills, a grasp of the elements that comprise the culture from which we came — and pay increased attention to academic and career advising. Other topics of great interest, she said, are enhancing the diversity of students and faculty, continuing to develop innovative ways to link the residential and intellectual life on campus, and revisiting the College's general education program, now ten years old.
Fundamental to all these objectives, she said, is having an excellent faculty.
“We no longer have a world where we can have our pick of faculty,” she said. “The overabundance of Ph.D.s from the 1970s and 1980s is gone. We have to be competitive in hiring, and we have to provide our faculty with the full opportunity to develop as teachers and scholars.
“Although we pride ourselves on our emphasis on teaching, I believe that faculty enthusiasm to teach comes from being absorbed in their disciplines,” she continued. “I believe that having faculty active in a scholarly way is even more important at a small college than a large university. It's so easy to become intellectually isolated at a small place, where you may be the only faculty member teaching in a particular area. Faculty must participate in their disciplines outside the walls of the College, and we must provide the opportunity for them to do good scholarship and research. ”
Achieving these goals, she said, will depend greatly on aggressive fundraising. “Union does not have the endowment of many of its competitors, and we need to increase our resources to stay competitive. The kind of education we offer is very special, with wonderful faculty working closely with students, and I hope that those who have benefited before will see the imperative of continuing their support. I know that I and the faculty will help in any way we can.”