Throughout the year, I plan to use the Leadership Blog to highlight the work of mid-level administrators. In meetings with focus groups, I have learned that many academics on our campus (tenure system and fixed-term faculty, as well as specialists) do not have clear ideas of what some jobs, such as department chair, involve or how rewarding they can be. Following interviews with leaders, I will share examples of fulfilling, innovative work across campus that you might not otherwise hear about. I welcome your ideas for individuals to write about in the future.
I begin this series with Johannes Bauer, who heads an enormously diverse department, which he describes as “merging Hollywood and Silicon Valley”. He has been chair of the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences for the last five years.
This department has more than 40 academics, including tenure system and fixed term faculty, as well as academic specialists. Their roles and backgrounds are wide-ranging and include social and computer scientists, game designers, and visual storytellers. What they all have in common is a focus on understanding how media and information science influence society and how they can contribute to a better world. Dr. Bauer is an engineer and economist with a strong interest in the arts, and is ideally suited to bring these individuals together in ways they might otherwise not connect, to create a special synergy.
He noted that he never thought of himself as a “people person”, but facilitating interactions is what he says he loves most about his job as department chair. He finds areas of “high in-between-ness” and creates connections among individuals. Two recent examples involve research and undergraduate education. With support from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Dr. Bauer furnished a lab in the space between two others that were used for scholarship and training in game design (http://gel.msu.edu/) and human-computer interactions (https://bitlab.cas.msu.edu/). The new lab was designed by a college-wide team to focus on computational communication. This provided an intellectual, as well as physical, bridge and collaborative work has started.
Collectively engaging diverse perspectives also has been effective in updating the undergraduate curriculum in the department. Dr. Bauer was initially not enthusiastic about taking on this challenge of transitioning a 1980’s curriculum into the context of modern technology, although he knew it had to be done. The first year was a bit of a struggle that he said “resulted in more of the past”. However, after a restart that involved a collaborative effort across faculty, they now have a program that is truly innovative. Alumni in industry are keeping an eye on the students who are trained, and the University of Michigan followed with a similar program. Now, that says something!
Dr. Bauer has contributed to building a unique department with an increasingly integrated approach. He focuses hiring new academics not just based on the skills they have as individuals but the relationships they can establish within the unit, across the college, and more broadly at MSU. He is clearly proud of the members of his department and the work that they are doing, and he relishes “creating a balanced environment where people feel part of a community and can fully unfold their talents”.