Brent Mallinckrodt will be joining Western on July 1, 2016 as the new dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Currently, he is associate dean for graduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee. Mallinckrodt is also a professor of Psychology and received a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from the University of Missouri and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Maryland. He has won numerous awards for his work in psychology including the American Psychological Association Innovation in Graduate Education Award in 2012. Mallinckrodt will be joining the College of Humanities and Social Sciences,Western’s largest college with a great admiration of the school and a determination for success.
Q: Why did you decide Western was the place for you?
A: It’s a great university. It’s got this great reputation nationally for being a place where undergraduate education is really valued, a great place to go to school. I always had it in the back of my mind it is a really good school in the Northwest. When the position became available, I started reading some more about Western. You’re an Ashoka Changemaker University and that is really a rare designation. That is something that universities try for and I think there’s only about 30 in the United States. When Western got this designation of being a changemaker university, that really is a signal that it is one of the leading, high quality undergraduate institutions in the U.S. Then I saw a survey that the number one reason students come to Western is because they want to make a difference and that really appealed to me. I was an undergraduate like that myself and a university that appeals to students who want to make a difference, that was a place that I wanted to work.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences?
A: I think being a dean means you get your satisfaction mostly from the accomplishments of others. One thing a good dean does is enable faculty and students in the college to reach their accomplishments. What I hope to accomplish most is to support those talented faculty and the program leaders in helping them accomplish what they would like to do. College of Humanities and Social Sciences is the largest college. If you think of Western like a body then the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. It needs to be healthy for the whole body to be healthy. That means providing really good majors in our departments and programs but also even for students who don’t major in College of Humanities and Social Sciences, they take a lot of their GUR courses from the our departments. Another thing I hope to accomplish is to make sure we identify bottlenecks and remove those once we discover them to make sure students get into courses they need. Finally, I’d like to promote the programs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and second majors or minors for students whose major is in the other colleges.
Q: What do you think will be the most different from Tennessee?
A: One difference right away is red state versus blue state politics. Tennessee is a very conservative state. But then there’s also the differences in the two universities. There is more emphasis on quality teaching at Western. Being a superb teacher is really highly valued at Western and because there aren’t a lot of graduate programs, the typical student has a lot more contact with professors than they do at Tennessee.
Q: What will you miss most about your previous job?
A: Definitely the people I work with. I am an associate dean now and I work with a dean very similar to the position I am going to have at Western. She is the best boss I have ever had. I have just learned so much about how to be a dean from the three years that I’ve worked with her. I will miss working with her and the team she has put together. I will miss my advisees and my students but I also have a lot of faculty colleagues. It is the people especially that I will miss about my job.
Q: What was the best thing that your current boss taught you?
A: She really runs things in a collaborative way. Every decision she makes, she solicits feedback, she makes sure she talks to people and gets their opinion. She never allows herself to be hurried in making a decision before she has had the chance to talk to other people so they all feel included. There are times when she decides against us, when she doesn’t do what someone wants her to do, but you always feel like she’s heard you and that she understands you, and that’s all you can hope for. She is very wise and she makes a decision based on other input. There’s never the sense that she is making an impulsive decision without a lot of feedback. She is great about helping people feel included. Those are values that I have learned that I want to make a part of my own leadership.
Q: What made you decide to move on?
A: I was happy in my current job but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to serve Western, an institution I admire so much. I’ve admired from a distance but as I read about the special things that go on at Western like Huxley College of the Environment or Fairhaven, just one thing after another makes Western such a special place. It’s a matter of my attraction to Western and the opportunity to serve Western outweighing the positives of staying here.
Q: What are some of your goals as the new dean?
A: I’ve read about Western’s goals, so expanding access and ensuring success for first generation students, those who have had no one else in their family go to college. That is a great goal I would like to help with. Working to create a campus that is inclusive, and have a climate that’s welcoming, a campus that serves the taxpayers of Washington- after all they pay our salaries that make Western possible. I also have the goal of talking about the value of a liberal arts education every chance I get. I think the skills that students who major in something in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, those skills are really in demand in business and industry. It’s a message I want to get out to donors, to parents and to prospective students for Western preview and Summerstart, just to be an advocate for the great programs of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. When I read about students wanting to make a difference, it seems to me that lots of students have a cause they care deeply about and they put themselves into it, their time and their effort. I think somebody that’s interested in social justice and social change, they already have great natural skills but if they take some of the classes that the College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers, we can train them to be more professional in their advocacy. That’s a goal that I have, to help students leave Western with tools to be social justice advocates no matter what they major in.
Q: What is the most challenging part of being a dean?
A: So this great boss said when she first became a dean, it was like drinking from a firehose. I think certainly the most challenging part is going to be learning all the new procedures and the people I’ll need to meet to understand how to do just my basic job very well. They talk about a learning curve and I think it will be very steep. Fortunately, the provost agreed to let me start my job a month early so I will be coming on board the first of July. That gives me a month of time to learn how to drink from the firehose before classes start. I can’t praise Dean Martin enough and her team for helping me in the transition. They have been sending me stuff and telling me what I need to pay attention to. I just could not ask for a more helpful group of people to help me in the transition.
Q: Will you be teaching any classes as well?
A: I hope to eventually, but I won’t for the first year. I love to teach, I have taught a lot of undergraduate classes. My specialty is psychotherapy and counseling and how counseling works so I would love to teach classes like that, but probably not for at least the first year that I am at Western. I know that I’ll miss teaching because right now I just have a half-time position as associate dean. I’ve always been an administrator and a professor in a split job throughout my career and this will be the first time that I am exclusively an administrator. Right now I think, probably at first, I’ll just be making some guest lectures in the classes where I’m invited.
Q: What makes you a good fit for Western?
A: I think what makes me a good fit is that I have been an administrator of one sort or another for about half my career. I’ve been teaching for 30 years and for 17 of those years I have been an administrator but always part time. I had that job while I did teaching, while I did research, while I had advisees. I think I am a good teacher, at least that’s what my students ratings suggest. I’ve been a successful researcher, I’ve been able to get grants, so the point is that I’ve had all the roles that the faculty that will be working in the college have and I had those roles recently. I think I will understand their goals and I will understand their challenges because recently I’ve been doing the same thing myself. I am a psychologist and my field of research is understanding what improves relationships, what makes for a good relationship. I think great universities depend on collaborative, respectful, working relationships at every level. That is one of my goals, to use what I know as a scientist to promote that kind of relationship that will make us successful. The last thing that I think makes me a good fit is I’m passionate about Western’s goals. When I read about what Western wants to achieve, I think to myself, ‘gosh I want those same things myself.’ They are my personal goals. I think that is what makes me a good match.
Q: What are you most excited for?
A: I think this is a great time to be at Western. Western faces some challenges, I remember when I first applied for the job, not long after that President Shepard had to shut the university down. I think Western is poised for great success on so many levels. It is going to be a national model for what a great teaching centered institution can be. I think we can take Western to be even more of a place that other universities look to. That’s probably what we should do ourselves. You’ve got a great faculty, superb students and you’re not afraid to innovate. Western is not afraid to try new things and that is unusual. I’ve been at a lot of universities where trying something new was really difficult. I was so impressed during my interviews, time and time again, with how much affection people have for Western. I have never been at a place where every student I met and every faculty member seemed to glad to work at Western and to be proud to be associated with Western. Not to say there aren’t problems or I didn’t hear some complaints, but people just seemed to really love to work for Western and I am one of those people already. That excites me, to be on a team of people who enjoy their jobs and are as dedicated. I like to listen to the news and I would say every day that we listen to the news, it is obvious to me that our country and the world needs more than ever the kind of graduates that Western produces. Thoughtful people who can do critical thinking, who can express themselves in writing and in oral form and who can be advocates for social justice. That’s a goal that I have to try to introduce wherever I have the opportunity to help train students to be advocates for social justice. I am very thankful to join in that mission that I think is Western’s mission.