To the City and the World: An Interview with Dean Richard Deeg
by Joseph Master
You came to Temple University 25 years ago from Minnesota via Cambridge, Massachusetts. What drew you here? More importantly, what kept you here?
Temple offered me a job, but I stayed because Temple is a great place to work, with great students and faculty who are wholeheartedly dedicated to their education and success. People here at Temple have a unique blend of grit, perseverance, and loyalty — and that makes working here both exciting and rewarding.
Philadelphia has also become a way cool city to hang your hat in and it’s not crazy expensive like New York.
Your thoughts echo what many of our students say — that cost is such a huge factor in the college decision process. What’s your synopsis of our cost vs. value proposition?
The College of Liberal Arts provides an outstanding education in a research university environment at a significantly lower tuition rate than Pitt or Penn State. Compared to private colleges, our tuition is lower, our degree offerings are larger and our students' access to jobs in the nation’s fifth largest city, well, it can’t be beat.
As a first generation college student whose parents didn’t graduate high school, you have often expressed a deep personal commitment to the Conwellian tradition of providing universal access to education. Do you see this tradition alive and well today?
After you’re at Temple for a while, you get the fact that Temple has always been about providing opportunity to students who don’t necessarily come from what most would perceive as advantaged backgrounds. Temple’s reach has become much more national and it draws from all segments of our society, but the Conwellian tradition is still alive and kicking, from students all the way up to the Board of Trustees. I’m proud to be a part of that tradition.
Why are the liberal arts so important in 2016?
The liberal arts are more important than ever because we have moved into the knowledge economy where creative and analytical thinking skills are in high demand in practically every career field. These are skills we emphasize in the liberal arts. The proof is in the pudding — and the proof is the success of our students in all industries.
Because the social sciences and humanities house such diverse offerings, the dialogue tends to focus on their differences — how they can be at odds. What similarities do you see? Do you see the power of the aggregate?
I think the differences between the humanities and social sciences are much less than the commonalities.
At the most fundamental level, what they share in common is a focus on understanding human behavior and the societies we create, including both the rules we create to make cooperation possible and the cultural artifacts we produce, individually and collectively, as a society.
STEM has gained steam in colleges across the country, for sure. Where do the liberal arts fit into the conversation?
First, let me note that the College of Liberal Arts includes STEM disciplines such as neuroscience and geography. Psychology links the social, natural and health sciences, while economics — especially the mathematical economics major — is in many ways a math discipline.
I think there is a benefit to faculty and students of having STEM and non-STEM fields in the same college, since this creates more opportunities for faculty and students to think about the relationships across the full spectrum of fields of human inquiry. So I guess it’s more like STEAM — if the “A” stands for the liberal arts.
The perception of declining relevance of liberal arts is a misperception. There is abundant evidence — from wage studies to surveys of corporate leaders — that the traditional skills of the liberal arts are still in high demand and lead to both financially and personally rewarding careers.
What separates the liberal arts from the many professional schools and pre-professional programs at Temple is that liberal arts students are not training for a specific job. Rather, they are training for a lifetime of jobs to come, and the first job out of college is usually just the beginning of a career that is self-defined by the individual.
Some prospective students and parents reading this might have seen some College of Liberal Arts promotional materials affixed with the phrase “This is our life’s work.” What does this phrase mean to you?
It means that the time students spend in college is not postponing "real life," but developing themselves for a richer life at work, with their families, and in their communities.
How does it feel to take the helm as dean of the College of Liberal Arts in this time of great transformation for the University?
It’s an exciting time to take up service as dean of the College. Temple has built tremendous momentum in recent years by enhancing its research capacity and producing tremendously talented and successful graduates. The College of Liberal Arts is poised to expand its role in furthering that momentum. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of that momentum.
You’ve only just begun — but does anything come to mind as your “vision” for the college? Any phrases that you have been rolling over? Give us the scoop.
Let me start by saying that the definition and realization of a vision for the College of Liberal Arts is best jointly produced by dean and faculty. Without the positive contributions of the latter, no dean’s vision can be realized. But one phrase that sticks in my mind is “urbi et orbi,” which means “to the city and the world” – the name of one of the Pope’s annual blessings and speech.
This college is perfectly positioned to build links from university to city to the world. From university to city happens through increased investment in policy research in the College that benefits the city and state; it happens through increasing student internships in the city; it happens through increasing community engagement by students, staff and faculty. Linking to the world happens through our new global studies major, promotion of international research collaborations and sending more of our students abroad.
The College of Liberal Arts can be this hub for Temple by forging links across colleges, across the city, across the world.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about? Any hobbies worth sharing?
I’m a big fan of time in the outdoors. I used to call myself a gardener, but now my dog trashes the garden so I’ve mostly lost the battle. I play golf, badly, on occasion. I’m probably most passionate about road bicycling – it’s a great way to get exercise and explore where you live.
It’s a Saturday afternoon. What are you up to?
Recovering from a morning bike ride. Maybe doing some yard work. Answering emails. If I’m lucky, I might take a nap while watching sports.
What are you most looking forward to about your new gig?
The opportunity to facilitate change on a bigger scale – changes that will make the College of Liberal Arts a better school for all of its stakeholders
The Dean’s Dossier:
Desert island book: Ulysses by James Joyce. I could never get very far with it, but with unlimited time, I just might make some sense of it one day.
In your AirPods: No AirPods. Just ear buds. Planet Money from NPR, because I’m a finance nerd. If it’s music, probably John Mellencamp, because Midwestern soul music speaks to me.
One item you can’t live without: My laptop, for obvious reasons.
Beatles or Stones? Stones, hands down, but I certainly enjoy Beatles songs.
Best advice you ever received: “Make hay while the sun shines.”
Favorite Philly destination: Forbidden Drive (my dog loves the woodland hikes).