Linda Wells is leaving CGS.

After 33 years at Boston University, Dean Linda Wells is ready for what she calls her “next chapter.” At the end of the Spring 2013 semester, she’ll formally retire as dean of the College of General Studies, a post she’s held for 13 years. Fortunately for BU, Wells will return to the University in a career development and alumni relations role in 2014.

Three Decades of Change

When Wells joined CGS as a junior faculty member in 1980, she didn’t expect to be there for very long. In a competitive, sometimes ruthless job market, her early mantra was, as she once told Collegian, “Be able to put everything in two shopping bags, so when they give you the heave-ho, you can just walk out the building in one trip.” But 20 years later, she was firmly established at the College, chairing the Division of Humanities & Rhetoric and acting as a special faculty assistant to the BU provost. When the long-serving Brendan Gilbane (DGE’50; COM’52; GRS’59,’69) stepped down as head of the College in September 2000, Wells shifted her two shopping bags to a new office: the dean’s.

Even then, she didn’t put a time frame on her service. “My predecessor was dean for 25 years—I knew I wasn’t going to be dean for that long; I just knew I wanted to make some changes.” Some of the changes would be aesthetic—revamped study lounges and classrooms, a new look for the lobby—others programmatic.

“Just as BU has seen its national profile rise as a research leader, so, too, has CGS emerged as a respected hub for undergraduate education,” wrote Provost Jean Morrison in announcing Wells’s retirement to the BU community. “Dean Wells has led a host of critical efforts aimed at enhancing the student experience, from ensuring greater stability for faculty and the establishment of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, to broadening the College’s curricular offerings [and] instituting new study abroad programs.”

Even in the final months of her tenure, Wells has continued to make changes. Her latest contribution is the introduction of the College’s first-ever January freshman cohort, which will combine classes in Boston with a summer semester in London (read more about the new program here).

The net result of Wells’s “remarkable leadership,” continued Morrison, has been “student retention and graduation rates that are among the highest in the University’s history.”

Defining a Legacy

In characteristic fashion—“I think people see me as a straight shooter”—the outgoing dean isn’t getting caught up in the emotion of a big, tear-filled swan song. “If there’s anything I would love, it would be to go out of here under cover of darkness without a party.” There are things Wells will miss (“I see this place as family”) and things she won’t (“budget memos”), but most of all she’s “really eager to see what ideas” her replacement will have. A national search is currently under way.

“I’m leaving CGS in good health. I do feel confident that the University values this College—what we offer in terms of an education and a pathway for our students to go in many different directions,” she says. When asked if she anticipates her contribution to the College’s vibrancy being acknowledged with a study center or classroom in her name—her predecessor was honored with a study lounge—Wells chooses instead to share a more incorporeal legacy: “I really think my legacy would be my own former students and the students who have gone out of CGS—that they feel connected to the College and to the faculty, and that I might have played some part in that.”

During her more than three decades at BU, Wells has helped thousands of students discern their future paths; now, she plans to do the same thing closer to home. After retiring from CGS, she’ll go on a yearlong sabbatical to guide one of her sons, who recently earned a master’s in furniture design, as he starts his career. There’ll also be the chance to attend to some long-neglected projects of her own, including academic research into “criminality and morality in African American literature” and “identity and work.”

And, of course, Wells’s BU legacy doesn’t end with her deanship. In the blink of a year, she’ll be back. “I just don’t think I’m finished in terms of higher ed,” she says of her planned career development role. It will be “as close to teaching as I’ll be able to be with all the advantages of that—and with none of the downside of grading papers.”

Share your memories of Wells—and read anecdotes from professors, parents, and former students—here.

Click here to make a gift in honor of Dean Wells.

5 Comments on Linda Wells is leaving CGS.

  • I did not know Dean Wells during my time at CBS, 1972-194, but the school afforded me a world class education and taught me the valuable skill of learning and developing the love of education. The professors of my time took a great interest in my development and gave me an opportunity to pursue an education that was deeply rich and varied.

    I work in an Engineering capacity and I studied with the greatest of the greatest in the quality industry. My CBS professors were the best and I remember the lectures and reading material as if it was yesterday.

    I am sure Dean Wells enriched the lives of the students she came in contact as Dean Gilbane has enriched my generation of students.

  • Despite my unpunctual attendance, what I learned through literature and how to critically look at the world from every angle I carry with me to this day. I congratulate you on a successful career and a legacy of broader minds. Much continued success. Thomas Cleary

  • Dean Welles is a very special woman and educator. She cares greatly about all of her faculty and students. She stepped into a job that was held by another very special person and succeeded in making a clear path of her own. I always enjoyed being in her company at the many events we attended. I wish her all the best. She will be missed.
    Judie Friedberg-Chessin
    Past President of the BUA
    SED 59

  • I graduated CBS in ’81, CLA in ’83 and law school in ’86. As one of her first-year, freshman embryos, I,fondly recall her patience and persistence, holding me to a higher standard than ever before. She was generous with her time after class — beyond need or expectation — and was the first person to prod me to engage in critical thinking. She, along with Howard Zinn, are largely responsible for this poster being a contributing member of society and, hopefully, doing my part to make a better world. My one gripe is that I and my then-girlfriend were permitted to prepare and submit our capstone project on what all agree was the worst and most short-sighted topic possible (the inheritability of intelligence). Sometimes children should be protected from themselves.

  • I had the pleasure of being in Linda’s Humanities class in 1981 at the College of Basic Studies. She was an amazing professor, and helped open my eyes to so many things about philosophy, the Vietnam War, sexism in society, to name just a few. She helped put me on an exceptional career path and instilled confidence in me. She was one of the finest teachers I encountered at a great university.

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