Johns Hopkins vice dean named Columbian College’s top leader

Updated: Monday, April 8 at 6:45 p.m.

A vice dean from Johns Hopkins University will take over as the next leader of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the University announced Monday.

Ben Vinson, the vice dean for centers, interdepartmental programs and graduate programs at Johns Hopkins University, will take on the top role in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He is a renowned scholar in Latin American studies. Photo courtesy of the Office of Media Relations

Ben Vinson, a scholar in Latin American studies who directs the Baltimore university’s interdisciplinary work and graduate education, will lead GW’s largest college starting in August.

He will be the only black dean at the University, and one of the highest-ranking black administrators. He has never held a deanship.

Vinson will replace Peg Barratt, who has been unpopular with many professors but helped shepherd the college’s research progress, increase graduate student aid and sharpen its focus on natural sciences.

The pick ends a six-month search, and will trigger discussions about the college’s future and how it fits into the University’s decade-long strategic plan.

“I am deeply honored and extremely excited to join the GW community at this important juncture in the school’s history,” Vinson said in a release. “Columbian College’s reputation as a world-class training ground for global leaders in the arts and sciences is a marvelous attractor for me, and I look forward to helping cultivate the school’s reputation in the years to come.”

In addition to his position as vice dean for centers, interdepartmental programs and graduate programs, Vinson is a part of the history department at Johns Hopkins. He also served as the director of the school’s Center for Africana Studies from 2006 to 2010.

He received his doctorate from Columbia University and has taught at Barnard College and Penn State University.

University President Steven Knapp praised Vinson’s penchant for interdisciplinary work – vital for a college with 42 departments and programs.

“He brings to this key position a strong commitment to scholarly excellence, a deep interest in student success and a spirit of collaborative engagement — exactly the qualities the school needs as it approaches the beginning of its third century,” Knapp said in a release.

Knapp was Johns Hopkins’ provost when Vinson started as a history professor there in 2006.  Knapp also hired away School of Public Health and Health Services Dean Lynn Goldman from Johns Hopkins three years ago. Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger also worked at Johns Hopkins earlier in his career, before he was recruited away from Duke University in 2010.

Vinson will also need to work to earn the trust of the more than 1,000 full-time and part-time Columbian College professors. More than two-thirds of the school’s 465 full-time faculty responded to a survey last spring that was largely critical of Barratt’s vision and leadership skills.

Barratt announced a month later that she would step down. She has focused on expanding the University’s global footprint in her final year, but several professors said last fall that the survey criticism undercut her power.

When Vinson visited campus last month, professors said he mostly played it safe when talking about his plans, touting GW’s D.C. location and pledging to gather broad input.

In the meeting, Vinson also discussed elevating the humanities in Columbian College.

This article was updated on April 8, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet reported that the new Columbian College dean will need to win the trust of more than 1,000 full-time and part-time faculty. While there more than 1,000 professors in the school, more than two-thirds of the about 465 full-time professors responded to the survey last spring.

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