“These students we’re educating, the people who are going to shape this world – what kind of education do we want them to have?” That’s the big question Jennifer D. Keene has on her mind as the new dean of Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Though an administrative career was not something Keene had ever planned, answering the big-picture questions was important enough that she set aside her own teaching and research goals as a historian to focus on the whole of Wilkinson College.
“The arts, humanities and social sciences have a really important role to play for every student here, no matter their passion,” says Keene, Ph.D. “And I want not just to say it, but to demonstrate it. I want people to really believe it.”
Keene acknowledges the work of her predecessor as dean, Patrick Feury, Ph.D., in reorienting the Wilkinson faculty toward research. “There’s just a tremendous sort of intellectual energy from all of this professional engagement and scholarship and creative activity,” Keene says.
She’s determined to bring more attention to that work, while also pushing back against the common impression that studying the arts and humanities is impractical.
“I’ve seen this university change, and a lot of great things have happened here,” says Keene. “But I feel we’re at a moment that if we don’t reassert the importance of our disciplines, it’s just going to be harder and harder to ensure that this humanistic education remains a core value at Chapman University.”
Wilkinson is the oldest part of the University and remains at “the heart of what a liberal arts education is,” she says. “You can’t have a university without us. We really have a unique responsibility at Chapman because we play an essential part in the education of every single student here. This is where Chapman comes together as a community.”
Keene has been a part of the Chapman community for many years, serving previously as chair of the History Department. An internationally recognized scholar who has written three books on World War I history, Keene has also served as president of the Society of Military History.
One of Keene’s priorities as dean is to establish more intentional relationships between Wilkinson and the other colleges. The goal is to develop concentrations that satisfy general education requirements but are also more obviously relevant to students in other majors.
The point is not to transform a history major into a biology major, but if you’re a student who wants to become a doctor, “maybe you should know something about the history of medicine,” she says. “Maybe you should know something about ethics.”
She points to interdisciplinary programs like Global Communications and World Languages, Environmental Science and Policy, and Engineering and Graphic Design as the types of collaborative programs she hopes to encourage.
She’s also spearheading a Wilkinson talent award fund, to provide supplemental scholarships to students. “I just hate to think that it’s the money component that sways a student from studying their passion,” she says.