Christopher Celenza has been designated as the next James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS). According to a University-wide email sent on Oct. 22 by University President Ronald J. Daniels, Celenza will begin his tenure on Jan. 4, 2021.
After Beverly Wendland, the former KSAS dean, was named the next provost of the Washington University in St. Louis in January, Hopkins formed a 21-person search committee to find the next dean. During the search, the University appointed John Toscano, a Hopkins chemistry professor and the vice dean for natural sciences, as interim dean in July.
Celenza has been serving as the dean of Georgetown College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown University since 2017. He was previously a professor in the Department of Classics at Hopkins from 2005, serving as department chair from 2014 to 2016. He also had a brief stint as the vice provost of faculty prior to his appointment at Georgetown.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Celenza shared what he viewed to be the role of the dean.
“A very big one is student experience for both undergraduates and graduate students,” he said. “One goal on that front is to make sure there is a conversation that happens that includes undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. When a research university is working at its best, that conversation is always happening.”
Celenza stated that he will advocate for faculty members to encourage interdisciplinary research.
“I want our faculty to know that I’m going to be there for them. It’s a leadership job but it’s a service job as well. I’m there willing to serve them and do my best to help them find resources,” he said. “Sometimes that includes things like if there’s red tape from working across schools. Hopkins — like a lot of universities — is realizing that you’re going to do better when you maximize different parts of the university. One goal of mine is to make that process as frictionless as possible, especially for faculty.”
In his email, Daniel expressed his belief that Celenza can lead Hopkins during a historic moment.
“We sought a leader and administrator who could build on the school’s strengths and execute a vision that embraces emerging opportunities at the Krieger School and extends its excellence into the next decade,” he wrote. “I know Chris’ experience, passion, and deep knowledge of the Krieger School and Baltimore community will serve the university well in the years ahead.”
Provost Sunil Kumar, who served as the chair of the search committee, explained the search process for the new dean in an email to The News-Letter.
“The selected candidate needed to demonstrate impeccable academic judgment and an uncompromising commitment to academic excellence, a commitment to diversity in all its forms, excellent interpersonal skills and a deep commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration,” he wrote. “Chris Celenza met all of our criteria and then some.”
According to Kumar, over 350 potential candidates were initially identified for the position, 71 of whom submitted applications. The committee then narrowed the search to 12 prospective candidates, and a shortlist of finalists was sent to Daniels.
Senior Jaanvi Mahesh, who served as the undergraduate representative on the search committee, stated that Celenza demonstrated his commitment to improving the undergraduate experience at Hopkins during the interview process.
“I could tell that he really cared about undergraduate education,” she said. “It was clear that he had the experience necessary.”
Celenza emphasized that at Georgetown, he focused on expanding opportunities for undergraduate research.
Additionally, diversity in hiring practice was at the forefront of Celenza’s approach to his job over the past three years. He described his faculty hiring record as his main accomplishment at Georgetown.
“Over the last three years, we hired around 50 tenure-track faculty members. Part of what we did was look for new fields and places where we could find different sorts of representatives,” he said.
Since Celenza left Hopkins, the tenure review process at the University has underwent a significant change.
The Homewood Academic Council, primarily comprised of elected faculty members, previously made tenure recommendations to Daniels who then either granted or denied tenure. The Tenure Advisory Committee with faculty members appointed by Daniels now oversees all tenure processes at Hopkins.
Some faculty members have voiced concern that the new process could hurt academic freedom, citing it as an example of further centralization of decision making power at Hopkins.
Celenza expressed support for greater faculty role in decision making, including in the tenure review process.
“The more faculty governance you have that you have at different levels, the better off you are,“ he said. “It’s a very important pillar of universities that faculty really should be the ones making the decisive decisions on academic policies and even on promotion and tenure.”
He, however, did not comment specifically on the revised process.
Celenza is expected to co-chair the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2), as his predecessor did. Comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, undergraduates and alumni, CUE2 aims to revitalize the undergraduate experience at Hopkins
“Hopkins is a very free system in a lot of ways. Because that is that kind of freedom, it is helpful to have different ways of mentoring which is one of the things CUE2 suggests,“ he said. “One thing we know from academic research on pedagogy and universities is that the biggest predictor of whether a student will think his or her experience was a success at a university was whether he or she had a real mentor.”
Celenza emphasized that he understood the frustrations of students on the lack of communication from the University. He added that Georgetown recently began sending weekly updates on spring planning to address similar concerns.
“There have been moments in human history that are real historic things that you can’t just engineer away quickly and you have to be realistic about them. And this is one of them,“ he said. “Sometimes communicating from within the decision making process isn’t helpful because you might be considering one option and have to discard it. You just have to calibrate it correctly so it’s frequent enough that people understand that there’s active work going on and that the work is changing, and they can monitor the changes.”