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Introducing the New Dean of Arts & Sciences

Ann Cudd comes from post as University of Kansas vice provost

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The new dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is an academic’s academic. Ann Cudd jokes that she and her economist husband discuss the insights of economics so often that their three children “speak in terms of opportunity cost and marginal benefit.”

Cudd became the Arts & Sciences leader August 1. She replaces Virginia Sapiro, who stepped down after eight years and is taking a year’s sabbatical before returning to teach in the CAS political science department. Cudd comes to BU from the University of Kansas, where she had been vice provost.

“I am delighted that we have been able to recruit Ann Cudd to Boston University,” says Jean Morrison, University provost. “Ann will be an excellent leader for CAS and a strong partner in moving the University forward. I am looking forward to working with Ann to achieve our shared goals of excellence in CAS and strong partnerships across the University.”

President Robert A. Brown says he is excited that Cudd is joining the University. “Ann brings us a wealth of experience as a faculty member and academic leader at a major research university dedicated to quality undergraduate education,” Brown says.

A philosopher who researches oppression by probing disciplines from economics to psychology, Cudd says her first order of deanship business is “a lot of listening and talk to a lot of people, to find out what are the passions of the current faculty, how can they see their disciplines growing, and their interdisciplinary projects in research going forward.” Cudd says she’s eager to promote BU’s initiatives in expanding its big data faculty and abilities, developing a new, University-wide general education curriculum, and physically redesigning classrooms for more interactive instruction. (“You can’t have chairs that are stuck to the floor,” she says.)

One thing is certain: the new dean of BU’s liberal arts and sciences school disagrees with those who say the country should downplay the liberal arts in favor of professionally oriented fields (business, science, technology, engineering, and math) because the latter generally provide more and better-paying jobs. A broad liberal arts and sciences education prepares students who are likely to change jobs several times over their careers, Cudd says, and there is plenty of research showing that the pay gap between the professionally oriented majors and other majors closes by middle age.

“The humanities are especially good at teaching us how to look at society differently, look at questions differently, ask the ethical questions,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to me to study the sciences in isolation from the humanities and the social sciences.” All those fields ultimately chase a better understanding of the world in order to make it better, and those are not just scientific questions, but “social science questions, interpretive questions, and also humanistic questions.”

And, she says, “if we back off from a broad arts and sciences education for all of our students…we are bringing about our own eventual decline.”

Cudd practices what she preaches in her own academic research, which helped pioneer “analytical feminism,” a field that seeks to quantify the oppression of women (and others) in economic and political terms, she says, rather than discuss solely “what does it feel like to be oppressed.” She has written numerous papers, including one arguing that capitalism is good for women—an insight she says can be countercultural in the liberal environment of academia.

“Capitalism frees women from the bonds of tradition and also helps women to find a way to get lots of opportunities in capitalist enterprise,” she says. “If you’re a good trading partner with me, then I’ll trade with you, and it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is or what your gender is.…I do disagree with the socialist feminists who argue that capitalism inevitably is a kind of oppressive system for all people. I think, actually, it has progressive ends.”

She also is interested in inequality in higher education. About 84 percent of American 24-year-olds in the top income quintile have bachelor’s degrees, versus just 8 percent in the bottom quintile, she says. “That is a shocking statistic.…If higher education is not the engine of social mobility but, in fact, may be the reverse—it’s the engine of social inequality—then we need to do something.”

Cudd says BU is trying to address one factor in that problem: the fact that some scholarships are awarded based on merit rather than need. Merit awards are “a great thing for many families, but need-based financial aid…will really help social mobility.” She commends the Campaign for BU’s efforts to raise money for need-based financial aid.

A dean’s workweek allows little downtime, but “if there’s ever a time that I’m not busy being dean, I like to go running,” says Cudd, who has run in the Boston Marathon and hopes against hope that her new schedule will permit her to do it again. Her husband and three children—the youngest just graduated from high school—enjoy hiking and fishing, and she is looking forward to exploring the mountains of the Northeast after being a regular in the Rockies.

Cudd earned a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore in 1982 and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. She had been at the University of Kansas (known counterintuitively, she says, as KU) for 25 years, as a teacher and an administrator. Her duties there included directing philosophy graduate studies and women, gender, and sexuality studies; being associate dean for humanities; and being vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies.

She has written or edited, alone or with others, five books, including Analyzing Oppression (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Bill Politis can be reached at bpolitis@bu.edu.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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