Columbian College leader to step down

Peg Barratt defended her deanship in a meeting with Columbian College of Arts and Sciences faculty three weeks ago, listing off accomplishments – bulked up fundraising and increased hires – and promising to grow from the stinging reviews faculty dished out in a survey last month, according to professors’ accounts.

But Barratt, the college’s longest-serving dean in almost three decades, announced Friday that she would step down next summer, winding down a leadership that has included a string of feats, but one that also may have been bruised by faculty discontent. She will stay on as a psychology professor after going on sabbatical, which will start June 2013.

A national search will launch this fall for a dean to steer the University’s largest school during a crucial period of growth, with four departments planning a move into the Science and Engineering Hall and administrators developing an undergraduate program that could span three continents.

Barratt’s resignation comes in the wake of a survey of more than 300 faculty that drew widespread criticism about her vision and leadership.

The survey found that the dean failed to work with faculty to develop plans, policies and an “atmosphere of trust,” according to a report from the dean’s 15-member advisory council that was obtained by The Hatchet last month.

Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said top administrators did not ask for Barratt to resign in the aftermath of negative survey reviews. He said she stepped down “on her own accord.”

“For any dean, there are people who like some decisions, and people who don’t like some decisions,” Maltzman said. “Rice Hall knows that.”

Barratt chose to leave, she said in an e-mail, because “it was time to step down and prepare the way for my successor.”

In 2007, the alumna was hired away from her role as the deputy director of clinical research policy analysis and coordination at the National Institutes of Health by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. She had also taught psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I’m pleased by what has been accomplished during my tenure in the way of curricular reform, student and faculty scholarship and support, community partnership, alumni engagement, and donor philanthropy,” Barratt, 63, said in an email.

She did not respond to multiple requests Friday as to whether the faculty survey was a factor in her decision to resign.

By this fall, Columbian College’s tenured and tenure-track faculty will have grown 13 percent since 2009 – part of a hiring strategy by Barratt and then-Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman to boost the school’s research portfolio and teaching credentials. The school’s science departments will also add 26 tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty over the next three years.

In 2010, Barratt oversaw Columbian College’s revamp of its advising program to fix a system that had drawn perennial scorn from students and parents. The overhaul that year of the school’s general course requirements – its first curriculum reform in three decades – also marked an academic milestone for Barratt.

Professors and administrators trumpeted the dean’s accomplishments, saying news of her resignation took them by surprise.

“I think it’s a shock,” English professor David McAleavey said. “There are a lot of metrics that show she’s had a positive impact on the college. Not everyone was aware of that.”

In a comments section of the evaluation, faculty zoned in on three areas of discontent with the dean over the past three years: Barratt’s proposal last year to move the philosophy department to the Mount Vernon Campus, the Science and Engineering Hall and the 2010 revisions of the general curriculum requirements.

Several professors said they believed the negative survey hastened Barratt’s resignation.

“It would be understandable if she’s reacting somewhat to those criticisms. No one likes to be criticized,” professor of public policy and public administration James Kee said.

Provost Steven Lerman said in an interview last month that deanships are tough in that they require one to balance academic and research responsibilities with increasing fundraising demands. He said he asked Barratt to spend 40 percent of her time raising money this year, a task on all deans’ plates since University President restructured the leadership role in 2009, requiring deans to carve out time to meet with potential donors.

“Faculty surveys are one tool used to evaluate deans, but [by] far not the only one,” Lerman added in an email Sunday.

Barratt has also teamed up with GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie to set in motion a degree program that would take undergraduate students from D.C. to China, as well as a third country, possibly Brazil or India. The program, slated to start by fall 2013, would be contingent on the University earning degree-granting status in China.

At a Faculty Senate meeting Friday, Lerman thanked Barratt for her leadership and touted her achievements, highlighting her role in growing the school’s faculty core.

“Peg Barratt is someone I’ve worked with very closely. She’s done some incredibly good things for Columbian College,” Lerman said.

He also said he was grateful that Barratt would stay on through next summer to ensure “a full year of orderly transition.” Barratt was not present at the meeting.

An elected committee of nine Columbian College tenured professors, picked from departments across the college, will launch the search next fall.

Maltzman said the search would likely bring top candidates to campus next winter and with the school’s 13th dean picked by late spring.

“I will answer questions about the dean process when we embark on one,” Lerman said. “For now, I am looking forward to a productive year in the Columbian College under Dean Barratt’s leadership.”

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