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Arts and Sciences Names New Dean

Political scientist and women’s studies scholar Virginia Sapiro selected

Virginia Sapiro, the former vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin, has been named dean of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Virginia Sapiro, a political scientist and women’s studies scholar, has been named dean of Boston University’s College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Provost David Campbell announced today. Sapiro, the former vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, will begin leading the University’s largest teaching and research division on July 1.

“Dr. Sapiro’s outstanding accomplishments in research, her love of teaching and mentoring, and her breadth of academic and administrative expertise within a large university made her our clear-cut choice as dean,” Campbell says. “We are confident that she will enhance the centrality of a liberal arts education for all Boston University students and lead CAS to still higher levels of excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship.”

Sapiro, who is the first female dean in the college’s 134-year history, says that she is “honored to be given the opportunity to lead [CAS] through its next exciting phase.”

The announcement caps an 11-month search process, initiated last June when Jeffrey Henderson, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of Greek Language and Literature and the college’s dean since 2002, announced that he would step down to return to teaching in the classics department. Convened in October by Campbell, the CAS dean search committee was led by Charles Griswold, a professor and chair of the department of philosophy, and included undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as well as faculty from the College of General Studies, the College of Engineering, and the School of Management.

“The job is a very demanding one,” Griswold said earlier this year. “The college and graduate school together form the University’s largest academic unit, enrolling approximately 7,600 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. We are searching for a person who can manage so large and complex an enterprise, while also raising funds, providing intellectual leadership and judgment, and advocating for the college and the graduate school.”

Sapiro, the Sophonisba P. Breckinridge Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies at Wisconsin, comes to Boston University with experience in building a large institution. She joined the Wisconsin faculty in 1976 and has since chaired both the department of political science and the women’s studies program and served as the interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs. She was the university’s vice provost for teaching and learning from 2002 until December 2006.

A member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2002, Sapiro has been recognized for both her research in political psychology and gender politics and her commitment to teaching and mentoring students. During her tenure at Wisconsin, the university developed undergraduate enrichment programs ranging from learning communities that brought academic topics into the residence halls to a campus advising networking that emphasized interdisciplinary academic and career resources. In the 2004–2005 academic year, 80 percent of undergraduates were involved in at least one such program. “Research shows us that student development and academic success hinge on becoming well-integrated into the university,” Sapiro says of the programs’ growth. “We want every one of our students to have a challenging and enriching academic experience.”

Sapiro says her vision of a “premier college of arts and sciences” includes three primary attributes that inform and shape the work of its leaders. “First, it must be a vibrant, supportive, productive learning community for its students and faculty across our great diversity of fields, approaches, and experiences,” she says. “Secondly, it must self-consciously devote itself to the values and practices of the liberal arts and a liberal education. Thirdly, it must be a valuable citizen of the larger communities of which we are part, both within the University and in the world beyond. We have to provide a superb undergraduate education that considers the whole person, which provides a foundation of knowledge, skills, creativity, and love of learning to serve them throughout their lives.”

In her research and publications, Sapiro has focused on women’s roles in American political development. Her first book, 1983’s The Political Integration of Women: Roles, Socialization, and Politics, is a survey-based exploration of the balance between women’s personal lives and political involvement. Her subsequent work, 1992’s A Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft, a study of the 18th-century feminist and political activist, won the American Political Science Association’s Victoria Schuck Award for best book on women and politics. More recently, Sapiro has written articles on the role of gender in perceptions of political candidates, and gender and race politics during the Clinton presidency.

As a professor and an administrator, Sapiro has been noted for her dedication to her undergraduate and graduate students, particularly for her role in developing Wisconsin’s women’s studies program, which was just beginning when she first arrived at the university. She received the university’s award for faculty excellence in teaching, research, and service in 2000 and awards for outstanding first-year advocacy and excellence in mentoring in 2006.

The New Jersey native earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Clark University and a doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan. She is currently a member of the board of trustees at Clark, where she chairs the student affairs committee, and is the former vice chair of the academic affairs committee. 

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.