Dean Jonathan Potter reflected upon the first five years of his deanship and shared his vision for the next five years. The following is the dean’s own words.
I want to begin by looking back at the last few years with a few key observations. Rutgers has been evolving fast. I arrived with the merger with Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences just completed and the new institution finding its feet. Rutgers University-New Brunswick leadership has been in flux – I have worked with two presidents, three chancellors, and three provosts.
When I applied for the job of dean of SC&I I was aware that Rutgers was adapting to these changes. But my central experience here has been joining a school that is stable, well-run, and financially smart – that is a luxury. Much of this I have been delighted to maintain. The main change I made early on was to modify the dean’s office so that there is one associate dean accountable and responsible for research, for teaching, and for administration. That seemed to me to be exactly how it should be, and it reflects our priorities.
One of the features of a successful school is that we are agile in terms of program delivery, and that means keeping ahead of developments. We’ve been nimble in the past, and our new Master of Health Communication and Information (MHCI) degree starting in January 2021 captures precisely that ability to be smart on our feet.
This degree will serve the needs of the huge health related workforce in Rutgers and New Jersey who wish to develop their skills, satisfying our land grant mission to the state. It is also, crucially, a platform for building SC&I’s already strong engagement with Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS), and units such as the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
The project to fund the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies predated my arrival, but it was exciting to contribute to the final years of the campaign working with figures such as Alison Bernstein, Gerry Laybourne, Subha Barry and, of course, Gloria Steinem herself. Reaching the funding target enabled us to appoint the wonderful Naomi Klein as its first occupant. I think her vision and her interests could not be more vital to our contemporary challenges as a world, as a culture, and as a society. And of course the Steinem Chair, which will endure after Naomi departs. It embodies and signals the very strong focus on the importance of diversity we have at SC&I. It also builds on our collaboration with the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
When I came to SC&I I was attracted to joining a unit with outstanding faculty, a very well-run administration, and crucially, a unit occupying an interdisciplinary and disciplinary terrain marked out by information, communication, and media. This is a territory in dynamic theoretical and analytic flux, blurring traditional boundaries between psychology and sociology for example, rethinking their topics in novel ways.
As a professional school, we stay grounded; we focus on real problems and real institutions. SC&I offers ways of thinking about organizational design, about information in relation to technology and health, new thinking about the connections between relationships and culture, about community mobilizing and platform politics, digital citizenship and its challenges, about families and mobile devices, investigative journalism, intervening in racial inequity, and about many, many, more things.
The intellectual dynamism in the school is outstanding. It is a space in which we talked about fake news and algorithmic fairness before these notions flooded Twitter and other platforms. I am excited and humbled to be part of this intellectual ferment.
Let me look forward.
Central to the next five years is ensuring the school is an environment where research thrives, where excellent teaching is supported, and where societal impact is propagated. We value our collegiality and must continue to be a school where people get along and support one another. I want us to continue as a community of light, companionship, and fun.
Underpinning all of that is protecting our students, staff, and faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic. None of us wanted to go online only – but this was the right decision. And as a school we have great experience in delivering an exceptional online pedagogic experience.
I have been focused on the future of Journalism and Media Studies in the context of the many crises in journalism. The fake news crisis overlaps with the advertising crisis, the local media crisis, the new platform crisis, the lack of diversity crisis; JMS faculty could list another half a dozen more.
We have been exploring a possible new master’s program in JMS for some time, perhaps with a focus on digital media, perhaps with a more international character. Now is the time to accelerate that development; JMS faculty will work with Professors Dafna Lemish, Department Chair Amy Jordan, and Jack Bratich on this. Such a master’s initiative can, in due course, be a platform for refreshing the JMS undergraduate major.
A second important project arises out of strong collaborative links in the area of data science with a number of units and faculty within the Rutgers University-New Brunswick School of Arts and Sciences. Faculty in all three SC&I departments and the three chairs have been involved in the discussion that in due course may lead to a minor and then a major in data science. This new initiative is being driven by faculty members Vivek Singh and Katya Ognyanova; this sits right within our agenda as a school and we have a core contribution to make. Part of this contribution will be focused on data and context. We fit data science within its appropriate context of media, organization, interaction, information, ethics, and diversity.
We have the potential to provide a rounded social science and a rounded ethical and political education for the students taking data science forward with a sophistication in our critique and our emphasis on social justice. SC&I in the context of Rutgers is exactly the right place to do this. The chancellor and provost have recognized our special contribution to this project and have lifted the freeze to allow us to search in this area.
A third project for the coming years is the continuing mission to secure funding for a new building for the school. At the moment, COVID has put that on hold, but the need is just as acute. A new building will be transformative for our research culture and student engagement.
Diversity is the center of all three of these projects and it’s a central project for the school as we go through the next three years. I am confident that Dafna Lemish will chair the SC&I Diversity Committee and spearhead further diversity initiatives for the school.
It’s a new world, with new challenges. Welcome all, to the exciting year that lies ahead.
This is an abbreviated and edited version of the welcome message Dean Jonathan Potter delivered to the SC&I community live via zoom on September, 2, 2020.