Gilman Hall is the humanities hub at Johns Hopkins University. Ben Vinson, a vice dean there, will move to a Foggy Bottom office this summer, and earned praise from his colleagues Monday. Photo courtesy of Lester Spence and used under the Creative Commons License
This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Mary Ellen McIntire.
Faculty and administrators at Johns Hopkins University called the next dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences trustworthy and energetic, praising his ability to work with different academic departments.
Ben Vinson, vice dean for centers, interdepartmental research and graduate programs at Johns Hopkins, now oversees 19 centers and programs, including the Center for Africana Studies, which he led for four years.
Steven David, vice dean for undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins, said Vinson has worked to bring together disparate fields in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences.
“He’s worked very well with the centers and programs at Johns Hopkins, getting them into a cohesive unit. Prior to his arrival the centers and programs existed more separately and he really brought them together and to be there for each other,” David said.
That reputation likely made him an attractive candidate for Provost Steven Lerman and University President Steven Knapp, who have highlighted increasing researchers’ interdisciplinary work as a key goal.
Ben Vinson is a renowned scholar in Latin American studies. Photo courtesy of the Office of Media Relations
When Vinson takes over for Peg Barratt and starts leading the Columbian College in August, he will juggle 42 departments, while spending at least 40 percent of his time fundraising. A member of Johns Hopkins’ history department, Vinson is a specialist in Latin American studies.
Franklin Knight, Vinson’s successor as director of the Center for Africana Studies, said his colleague strengthened the program by increasing its research output and partnering it with several outreach programs.
Knight said his predecessor “made the center work” by making it more visible on campus.
“There’s no doubt that we have a center which before Ben was nowhere near in terms of its activity and quality what he has [done]. And if the university continues to support it, that will be a lasting legacy,” he said.
While serving as the director of the program, Vinson attracted donors by starting a series of summer institutes and efforts to digitalize the archives of the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper Morgue, Knight said. Vinson also created relationships with several community organizations and institutions while he was director, he said.
Knight emphasized Vinson’s ability to lead a “heavily science-oriented university,” despite his background in the humanities and social sciences. Johns Hopkins has led the nation for 33 straight years in research expenditures, pulling in $2.1 billion in medical, science, and engineering research in fiscal year 2011.
Vinson will guide GW’s science departments through the move into the Science and Engineering Hall when the $275 million building is complete in 2015. He will also be charged with increasing the college’s about $12 million in research expenditures.
“He’s a really quick learner. He does understand quite well what the differences are,” Knight said. “He has the capacity to go beyond his own discipline.”
Lerman said in an interview last week that the new dean would need “enormous interpersonal skills” and have a “proven track record of leading an organization.” The Columbian College dean is the school’s chief administrative officer, also in charge of duties like recommending tenure and controlling the school’s expenditures.
David described Vinson as low-key and a good listener, as well as compelling speaker. He said Vinson is able to work one-on-one with those who report to him in order to reach solutions.
“He’s not going to try and overwhelm or coerce you,” David said. “He really is interested in understanding the key points of others.”
David added that Vinson has also led graduate programs at Johns Hopkins, having handled a number of changes within the programs like increasing stipends for graduate students. About $12 million was allocated for graduate aid in Columbian College this year, a number administrators have said they hope to raise.
David said he believes faculty and students will respect Vinson for his achievements as an esteemed historian.
“I think what’s most important is integrity. He’s someone who is a straight shooter, will not lie, mislead or deceive,” he said. “He’s someone you can trust. And he’s someone whom I believe the faculty, staff and students will have confidence in.”