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Climate change candidate speaks at first dean open forum

“She said, ‘Come on Easterling, this is the closest thing you’ll have to a home-court advantage as an external candidate,’” he said.

Easterling, a UNC alumnus whose mother still lives in the area, is one of the five finalists to replace Karen Gil as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. More than 70 faculty members and University officials attended his open forum.

Easterling broke down his plan for growing the college in three phases: recruiting and retaining faculty; reinvesting in the research mission; and celebrating and strengthening the arts, sciences and humanities.

Easterling, the current dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State, stressed the importance of faculty research, academic freedom and retention.

“Students are our ambassadors, but the faculty are the ones who bring the accolades and recognition,” he said, standing in front of a projection screen that read, “the faculty are THE university’s reputation.”

He said in an interview after the forum that academic freedom is not always understood.

“I see it as the job of an academic leader, a dean, to be constantly reminding our public ... that we have an obligation to ask uncomfortable questions, to explore topics that are sometimes unpopular and to get the best thinking around some of these very contentious problems facing our society,” he said.

“The dean has to be unapologetic.”

After a 20-minute presentation, Easterling fielded questions ranging from protecting liberal arts funding to recruitment of minority faculty.

Professor Laurie McNeil asked where Easterling would focus the college’s limited money among departments and programs.

“We always have fewer resources than we want,” McNeil said.

Easterling said he made tough calls at Penn State about programs that had “become less and less engaged in the main mission of the university.”

Student Body President Houston Summers and other student leaders met with Easterling after the forum. While Summers could not comment about Easterling due to a confidentiality agreement, he said he’s stressing affordability to all the candidates.

“The process has been set up for a lot of student input and student feedback,” he said.


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