James Glaser Named Dean of Arts and Sciences

Tufts political scientist leads the university’s largest school, with 5,200 students and more than 650 faculty
James Glaser
“One of the things that makes Tufts special—and the reason I have made my career here—is our mission to make this education accessible to a broad swath of society,” said Jim Glaser. Photo: Kelvin Ma
February 4, 2015

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James M. Glaser, a noted scholar of American political behavior who has served as dean ad interim of Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences since last summer, has been tapped to lead the university’s oldest and largest school. The appointment, effective Feb. 15, follows an international search.

Glaser has spent his entire academic career at Tufts, joining the Department of Political Science as an assistant professor in 1991, the year he received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. As he rose through the faculty ranks (he was promoted to full professor in 2005), Glaser emerged as a leader, first as department chair, then as dean of undergraduate education for arts, sciences and engineering from 2003 to 2010 and finally as dean of academic affairs for arts and sciences, before being named interim dean in June 2014.

“One of the things that makes Tufts special—and the reason I have made my career here—is our mission to make this education accessible to a broad swath of society,” Glaser said. “This institution has values and a social conscience that attract a certain kind of student who wants to be at Tufts because they want to make a difference.”

Glaser said he is fortunate “to be surrounded by an incredible team of enormously talented people who have made me a stronger administrator. My highest priority has been to put into place those systems and initiatives that will make those around me—faculty, students and staff—even better,” he said.

He leads a school with 5,200 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 650 faculty during a time of great expectation at Tufts—now that a university-wide strategic plan has mapped out an ambitious course for the next decade and planning continues for a capital campaign that will fund that vision.

“As a longtime teacher, scholar and administrator at Tufts, Jim has the deep institutional knowledge and breadth of vision that make him the ideal choice to lead the School of Arts and Sciences,” Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco said. “He’s a bold thinker who is committed first and foremost to our students and the faculty who teach and mentor them.”

Provost David Harris, to whom Glaser reports, said he is proud that the dean “has Tufts in his DNA. He has an enduring admiration for this institution, its traditions, its people and its values,” Harris said. “We could not have done any better than to entrust the next chapter in the history of the School of Arts and Sciences to Jim Glaser.”

Transforming the Student Experience

Glaser has done much to help transform undergraduate education at Tufts. As a faculty member, he served on a task force charged with reimagining the undergraduate experience. Then, as dean of undergraduate education, he guided the implementation of the task force’s recommendations.

“The amount of change that has come from [the Task Force on Undergraduate Education] has been substantial,” Glaser said. Some of those innovations include a Summer Scholars program that supports undergraduates as they conduct research with faculty across the university, a revamped advising system that has improved graduating student satisfaction rates nearly 50 percent, a café in Tisch Library that has increased library traffic and promoted more interaction between faculty and students and a doubling of the number of undergraduates completing honors theses prior to graduation.

Throughout his career, Glaser has championed students and their potential. “I care about bringing a diverse group of students to the university,” said Glaser. “I believe that all admitted students are capable of succeeding at Tufts, but we have a responsibility to put into place mentoring, advising and bridge programs to promote their success.”

Glaser has always shone the spotlight on students. Their achievements, he said, inspire him to be a better teacher and administrator. He points proudly to his latest book, Changing Minds If Not Hearts: Political Remedies for Racial Conflict (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), which he coauthored with his former student, Timothy Ryan, A06, who is now a tenure-track faculty member at the University of North Carolina.

Graduating seniors in 2000 voted to award Glaser the Lerman-Neubauer Prize for Outstanding Teaching and Advising in recognition of the “profound effect” he had on them intellectually, both in and out of the classroom.

“Undergraduate education is not just about sitting in the classroom,” Glaser said. “It is about having active learning experiences that allow students to discover the excitement of creating and transmitting knowledge.”

A scholar of American politics, particularly in the South, and the fickle behavior of voters, Glaser is a frequent national media commentator on elections and polls. “Given my interest in issues of race and ethnicity, the South has provided me with opportunities to explore how people think and act in a time of great racial change,” he said. He’s taught courses and written two books on these issues—The Hand of the Past in Contemporary Southern Politics and Race, Campaign Politics and the Realignment in the South—both published by Yale University Press and both winners of the V.O. Key Award for Best Book in Southern Politics.

Vision for Arts and Sciences

Now that the Arts and Sciences leadership team is in place, Glaser said they will move to implement the recommendations of the just-completed strategic plan for Arts and Sciences, which was developed during a yearlong process that he co-chaired with Vickie Sullivan, professor of political science.

The plan lays out three primary goals—a continued commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted undergraduates for four years, strengthening graduate degree programs and ongoing improvements to facilities that support Tufts’ research and educational priorities.

Tufts is among the few American colleges and universities that commit to a full-need financial aid policy for undergraduates for four years, Glaser said. “That’s an important value to us, and we’re proud of it. But it’s also an expensive proposition. Financial aid is a hungry beast.”

Glaser said that Robert Cook, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and other members of his leadership team have been actively working on strategies to improve graduate education—including the appointment of a director of admissions for the graduate school last summer. “We need to look at how we recruit and support graduate students,” he said. “This is a goal that faculty widely share.”

Finally, he said, the school needs to provide faculty and students with quality facilities in which to teach, conduct research and learn. Construction continues on two new buildings on campus: the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex at 574 Boston Ave., which, when it opens this year, will bring together departments with a high potential for collaboration, and the Science and Engineering Complex, scheduled for completion in 2017. “We hope for continued progress beyond that,” he said.

Glaser acknowledges that the Arts and Sciences agenda is ambitious and expensive. “There are pressures to grow and change, but we have limited resources,” he said. “If we balance our priorities, pursue opportunities consistent with our mission and make responsible choices, I believe we can make steady and significant progress toward these goals.”

In the shorter term, Glaser said he and his leadership team continue to look at ways “to refresh and create excitement” around the curriculum. They’re exploring a new major in film and media studies, planning to elevate the popular community health program to department status with tenure-line faculty and advancing a new finance minor in economics that integrates a liberal arts education with preparation for a career in finance.

Arts and Sciences is also looking to partner with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy to create a minor in nutrition and food science. “We are working with Friedman School Dean Dariush Mozaffarian to enhance our offerings of food and nutrition courses and strengthen the connection between the two schools,” Glaser said.

Both the strategic plan and these other endeavors are aimed at an even larger aspiration—“helping our reputation catch up to our reality,” Glaser said. “Our students are the best they have ever been, and we continue to pursue opportunities to develop talented faculty who hold prominent positions in their fields and break ground in the creation of knowledge.”

Karen Bailey can be reached at karen.bailey@tufts.edu.