Graduate School Welcomes New Dean to An Empty Campus

A professor during student worker strikes in California, Tyler Stovall aims to solve graduate student unrest from the pandemic crisis

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COURTESY OF TYLER STOVALL

After serving as a dean at UC Santa Cruz and as president of the American Historical Association, Stovall will assume his new position at Fordham on July 1.

By KATRINA LAMBERT, News Editor

After nearly a year of searching, and with setbacks from the pandemic, Fordham will welcome Tyler Stovall, Ph.D., as the new dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) in July 2020.

In January 2019, the previous dean of GSAS, Eve Badowska, resigned from her role to become the Associate Vice President of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Melissa Labonte stepped in to serve as the interim dean.

The following school year, the university organized a search committee headed by University Vice Provost Jonathan Crystal to guide the search for a new dean who will be committed to the university’s mission as well as be innovative in improving the graduate school’s curriculum. 

“What was really important is someone who is student-centered, someone who would put graduate students at the forefront,” Crystal said. “It’s not like what it (graduate school) used to be where you just train people to be professors, so we wanted someone who could think creatively about what the purpose of graduate education is, and what it can do.”

From Coast to Coast

Stovall comes to Fordham from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz. At UC Santa Cruz, he was the dean of the humanities division and a professor of history. He also served as the president of the American Historical Association, the largest organization of professional historians in the world.

His achievements as a scholar and administrator are what initially appealed to the search committee. Crystal said that he models the balance of scholar, teacher and administrator that the GSAS is looking for to represent the college.

Furthermore, it was Stovall’s dedication to students that showed the search committee he would be a valuable member to the university. 

At the beginning of 2020, while Stovall was an administrator at UC Santa Cruz, graduate student workers at the university went on strike for a $1,412-per-month cost of living adjustment after struggling to pay rent, a product of California’s housing crisis

The search committee highlighted Stovall’s ability to articulate an understanding of the needs of the students striking as an example of his student-centered approach. 

“The way that he balanced concern for the graduate students and an ability to think creatively about solutions and see that big picture, balancing the interest of (the) institution, but also the legitimate concerns that graduates students have, I think we really saw in him a strong judgment of character and commitment to social justice,” Crystal said.

What was really important is someone who is student-centered, someone who would put graduate students at the forefront.”

— Jonathan Crystal, university vice provost

Joining In Difficult Times

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the graduate student workers at Fordham’s GSAS are dealing with similar issues, such as inadequate payment compensation for the online course transition and having to abandon their own research and work extensively as instructors. 

“Those of us who were approaching the end of our doctoral studies now face unemployment due to a non-existent academic job market and a shattered economy,” the graduate student workers stated in a circulating petition addressed to Fordham administrators.

In response to these concerns of graduate students, Stovall said he wants to meet with these students when he assumes the role to better understand their grievances and hear their ideas for solutions.

“This is something I have a lot of experience with, both as a faculty member and as a graduate student,” he said. Stovall said that when he was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, he had experience working as the lead teaching assistant, which has given him an insight into the struggles of graduate student workers, even without the added difficulties of the pandemic.

“I am looking forward to working with graduate students in the administration to find the best solutions possible,” he said.

During the latter half of the interview process, candidates usually visit campus and meet committee members in person. Stovall’s visit was scheduled for late March, but the outbreak of the coronavirus meant that his interview was conducted entirely online.

“It was unusual,” Crystal said. “We’ve never hired a high level university administrator who hasn’t come to campus or met people in person.” 

Stovall had a slight advantage, however, having already been to the Rose Hill campus in the past. Crystal said that the overall process was an adjustment for everyone, but that the committee feels confident in their decision with Stovall.

Stovall’s Goals as Dean

As the dean of the GSAS, Stovall believes his role is to make sure that students have the best job opportunities when they graduate, whether that be in academia or any other field. During the coronavirus pandemic, when many job opportunities have become limited, this role becomes even more important.

Additionally, he aims to highlight Fordham’s mission of education for social justice and advancing the bounds of knowledge as the new dean. 

Members of the search committee were seeking someone who could “enhance the resources coming to the university,” Crystal said. “To do that, you need to be able to provide a compelling vision so that donors are attracted and they want to contribute and be involved in the future of education at Fordham.”

He aims to highlight Fordham’s mission of education for social justice and advancing the bounds of knowledge as the new dean.”

Stovall showed that he would be capable of presenting a compelling vision of the university. He expressed that one of his goals as the dean is to “make visible what Fordham does as a leader in graduate education, both to the rest of the campus and to the world as a whole.”

When the new dean assumes his position on July 1, he will be welcomed by an empty campus. Stovall said that he wishes he could invite students to stop by so he could meet everyone, but for now, he encourages Fordham students to continue sending him emails and reaching out with any concerns.

“I am really looking forward to seeing the place in person — it is such a lovely campus — and I really look forward to meeting all the people that I will come in touch with,” he said.