deans' list

The final installment in a series
profiling the University’s academic deans


Douglas Lloyd


Triggering Creative Thought

At the risk of waxing nostalgic, Mark Robbins G’81 shares the story of his daily trek as a 14-year-old New Yorker, reading Homer on his subway odyssey from one end of the city to the other to attend the High School of Music and Art. “It was a great place to go to school,” says Robbins, who was appointed dean of the School of Architecture in fall 2004. “Part of the education was the city itself—going to galleries and museums and mixing with people of all kinds.”

Robbins credits his parents with exposing him to a wide array of experiences and instilling a sense of curiosity in him for the arts and sciences. “They were politically and socially engaged and encouraged us to think about our role in the world,” says Robbins, who holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and fine arts from Colgate University and a master’s degree from the School of Architecture.

Robbins brings to the role of dean his experience as an architect, artist, educator, and a policymaker at the national level. Before returning to Syracuse, he was the director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), where he developed a program to strengthen the presence of innovative design in the public realm. “I believe spaces are filled with associations and have a political dimension,” Robbins says. “I stress innovation in creative work as a way to address our society in all of its complexity.” At the NEA, he tripled funding for the various design disciplines; expanded the Mayor’s Institute on City Design, a program dedicated to urban revitalization; and developed the New Public Works initiative, which supported more than 30 national design competitions, bringing the best of contemporary design practice to schools, museum buildings, and landscapes.  Previously Robbins was tenured in the Knowlton School of Architecture and was curator of architecture at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, where he originated projects that served as laboratories for the creation of new work, and provided educational forums about architecture, contemporary culture, and design.

Robbins’s own creative work bridges art and architecture and has been exhibited in numerous venues in the United States and abroad, including the Clocktower Gallery in New York City and the Museum of Modern Art in Saitama, Japan. This hybrid work often takes the form of installations: large, three-dimensional constructions that are designed for a specific site, and either comment on that place, or somehow invite people to think differently about their interactions with others or with the space. “I hope the work can be a trigger for people to think in other ways about their environment,” he says.

For the Adelaide Festival in Australia, Robbins created an installation at the site of a 19th-century dam and prison, featuring theatrical lights hung from a bridge that projected strong beams onto rows of taffeta shower curtains. “When people crossed the bridge at night, their shadows were cast onto these scrim-like panels, so the setting became like a stage,” says Robbins, whose intent was to display the hidden activity in the dark banks of the river that had been considered out of bounds and dangerous. “It was a low-tech way of communicating across a great distance, like an animated billboard.” For such work, Robbins was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and most recently was a fellow in the visual arts at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. While there he began a photographic project about domestic interiors and portraits that will become the book, Households.

The concept of “thinking differently” is also at the foundation of his philosophy for the School of Architecture, and his goal for its students. “Inconvenient facts seem to me to be the hallmark of a good education,” he says. “Our role as an intensely committed faculty is to expose students to work and ideas that may challenge their expectations or assumptions. We attempt to develop minds, which can respond to the complexity of the world as we find it and propose visions for the future. School is the proving ground for perhaps the hardest work in a student’s career: the preparation to make independent, critical contributions as architects, scholars, and citizens.”

Douglas Lloyd

Connecting Communities

As much as any person on the Syracuse campus, Bethaida “Bea” Gonzalez G’04 is a living embodiment of the University as a positive force in the life of the greater community. For 20 years, Gonzalez has moved with boundless enthusiasm between the Hill and the city’s neighborhoods, giving full vent to her twin passions for higher education and active citizenship. Her success in both spheres is as obvious as the unlikely pair of leadership positions she occupies today: interim dean designate of University College (UC) and president of the Syracuse Common Council, the city’s chief legislative body. “University College has always allowed me to explore and participate in community-based programs that I thought were important for me—and for the college,” she says. “I see myself as an ambassador for the University in all my community work, so it has been easy for me to blend the two. When I sit at city council, I feel I’m in a good position to hear the frustrations people have with the University and to respond by building relationships that will solve their problems. Sometimes, I get flack from both sides—and that can be tough. But my contributions and my ability to ‘boundary-cross,’ to use Chancellor Cantor’s phrase, make it all worthwhile.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez arrived in Central New York at age 3. The daughter of migrant farm workers, she grew up in one of the region’s least visible and least empowered cultures. The unstable nature of agricultural day work made schooling difficult for her as a child; by her estimate, she attended 13 different elementary schools. “By the time I got to middle school, my father had become a member of the construction laborers’ union, and life settled down dramatically after that,” she says. Given the opportunity to focus on her studies, she excelled in high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and Latin American studies from Binghamton University. She received an M.P.A. degree from the Maxwell School in 2004.

As head of University College, Gonzalez is determined to see that the college remains a leader in continuing education in New York State, even as new opportunities for distance learning make competition more intense. “We offer adult working students every possible advantage and option for meeting their educational needs,” Gonzalez says. She is particularly proud of UC’s Bachelor of Professional Studies degree programs, which are offered in four areas: organizational leadership, professional communication, applied computer technology, and legal studies. “For those who need the skills but don’t have the time to take the degree, we offer parallel certificate programs in all four areas,” Gonzalez says. “We can even accommodate students with multi-delivery formats, combining elements of traditional residency, online participation, and mail.”

Among Gonzalez’s long-term goals for UC is expansion of its efforts in civic education, which already include such activities as the Thursday Morning Roundtable (now in its 40th year), a weekly forum on local issues broadcast by WAER-FM; and the Onondaga Citizens League, which prepares in-depth research studies of local public interest issues. Gonzalez would like to see UC establish a “citizens’ academy,” where local community members learn the skills necessary to become effective advocates for their own needs and interests, a project she believes speaks directly to Chancellor Cantor’s vision of the University as a public good. “Recently, the Chancellor spent several hours at South Side Presbyterian Church in Syracuse,” Gonzalez says. “As a kid who grew up around here, I can tell you that things like that didn’t happen too often in the past. Just watching the dialogue between her and the community is inspiring.”
To see “a kid who grew up around here” sitting in a dean’s chair at University College is a source of inspiration as well.


Susan Kahn

Legal Lessons

College of Law Dean Hannah Arterian believes law is the engine that drives society and allows it to redefine itself. The law provides the means by which a variety of forces come together to ultimately push society forward. Because of the law’s expansive impact, Arterian says a legal education can empower people from all backgrounds and disciplines to effect change in a broad spectrum of areas. “A law degree is a powerful lever for almost anything you want to do,” she says. “You come away with an intellectual capacity and the analytic tools that you will bring into any work or policy situation you encounter. There’s nothing you’ll see the same way after that.”

The lessons Arterian learned as one of only a few women students at the University of Iowa College of Law imbue her with candor, diligence, clarity, and resolve. “The biggest lesson of law school is not memorizing cases; it’s about slowly discovering that your mind is turned in a very different direction,” she says. “You develop your ability to synthesize complicated material and formulate new ways to approach a problem.”

After graduating from law school, Arterian worked as a corporate tax attorney at a New York City firm. Heavily recruited by law schools seeking more women faculty members, she eventually accepted a faculty position and fell in love with teaching. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I liked the subjects I was teaching—constitutional law and employment law—and I liked sharing that with students.”

Arterian began to combine her faculty role with administrative leadership as the academic associate dean at Arizona State University College of Law. After 23 years in Arizona, she came to Syracuse in 2002 for the opportunity to work with the College of Law’s scholars and teachers. Among her top priorities is gaining recognition for the excellent legal education the college offers. She notes with pride a number of the college’s strong programs, including disability law, family law, counterterrorism and national security law, technology transfer, and indigenous law. “We have had interdisciplinary programs and teaching here historically, and it has gained new momentum,” she says.

Since becoming dean of the College of Law, Arterian has added four new faculty members, and this fall, nine more professors will join the college. “They’re an incredibly distinguished and interesting group of people who will help build our current programs and also enhance our ability and reach in interdisciplinary work,” Arterian says. “Four of the individuals who will join us on the faculty next year hold Ph.D.s, in addition to law degrees. A law school can only be as good as its faculty. Luckily for us, that means we can be great.”

The college is also working to expand its relationship with alumni. “We have created an energetic new Board of Advisors whose members are selflessly committed to the college,” Arterian says. “In addition, we have a new national alumni association, to help make the ‘network’ of Syracuse law school graduates more visible. We plan to keep moving forward, reaching out to our graduates to help them feel invested in the future of the college that provided the opportunity for their legal education.”

The changes taking place at the College of Law mirror those under way across the University, and Arterian is pleased by how well the college’s direction meshes with the new path set by Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “We are a college whose goals and mission are in step with hers, and it is great to be part of moving forward,” Arterian says.

Douglas Lloyd

Return Investment

A lost letter resulted in Melvin Stith G’73, G’78 coming to Syracuse University in the ’70s for graduate studies. A son’s curiosity drew him back 30 years later. In between, Stith filled his life with rewarding professional experiences. He proudly returned in January as the dean of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. “I never dreamed I would be back to lead my academic unit and build upon the rich legacy of the School of Management,” Stith says. “It’s a special honor and privilege to gather with faculty, staff, students, and alumni within the Syracuse family.”

Stith, who grew up in Jarrart, Virginia, began his academic life at Norfolk State University in Virginia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. While serving in Vietnam as part of his Army ROTC obligation, Stith had his wife, Patricia G’77, help him apply to graduate schools. While looking at a magazine one day, she spotted a friend, pictured at SU. After contacting the friend and learning about the opportunities at SU, she sent in her husband’s application, and he was accepted. When Stith returned home to Virginia from Vietnam, he discovered he had also been admitted to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, but the acceptance letter had been lost in the mail. “We still talk about that,” he says. “I’m sure if we had received that letter, we would have stayed in Virginia. But this was meant to be.” At SU, Stith earned an M.B.A. degree and a doctorate in marketing, while Patricia, now an associate dean at the Graduate School, earned a master’s degree in instructional technology. “There was never a day on this campus that we didn’t feel like we belonged here,” says Stith, who once served as director of graduate programs at the School of Management.

The couple eventually returned to the South when Stith became a professor and an associate dean at the University of South Florida. In 1985, he joined the faculty of the Florida State University College of Business, serving as chair of the Department of Marketing until he was appointed dean in 1991. Stith also became active in the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, and the Ph.D. Project, a program that recruits people of color to teach at business colleges. In addition to his academic work, he has consulted or lectured for such organizations as The Dracket Company, the Florida Department of Education, and Anheuser-Busch. He holds directorships with Flowers Foods Inc., Synovus Financial Corporation, Correctional Services Corporation, the Graduate Management Admission Council, and other businesses.

In 2004, Stith visited the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with his youngest son, William, who was interested in graduate studies. Back on campus, Stith was encouraged by SU officials to apply for the dean’s position at the Whitman School. He did—and was offered the job. “I thought how exciting it would be to come back to my alma mater with a person at the top like Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who has dedicated her whole professional life to inclusiveness,” Stith says. The Stiths returned to Syracuse with William, who enrolled in the television-radio-film program. The couple have two other children, Melvin Jr., an attorney and Ph.D. student in risk management and insurance at the University of Georgia, and Lori, an attorney in Florida.

Since returning, Stith has been busy meeting with management faculty, staff, and students. “We’re putting together goals and our vision statement for where we want to be as a body of scholars,” he says. “We’re looking at current programs and how to improve them.” This includes building interdisciplinary programs with other schools on campus and making optimal use of the Whitman School’s newly constructed 160,000-square-foot building (see related story). “The building is centered on excellence in teaching and offers the latest in technology and team rooms where our students can collaborate,” Stith says.

Along with its impressive facilities, Stith wants the Whitman School to be known for its teaching, research, and service, and for a dynamic career center that launches students into their chosen fields. Staying connected to students is a top priority. “You can’t be a successful dean without having the pulse of the students,” Stith says, noting his plans for formal and informal sessions with students. “We should be able to touch the life of every young man and woman who comes through here. That’s my goal.”

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