Interim Dean, Caspersen School of Graduate Studies
When I think of the “interim” in Interim Dean, I think of John Bicknell, the architect of the modern English Department at Drew. When I began my career at Drew in 1970, I was a twenty-six year old, brand new Ph.D. and Assistant Professor. John was my mentor. Sometimes he would look at me with the clear blue eyes of experience, clear his throat, and begin, “Well.”
In 1967-68, John Bicknell served as Interim Dean of the Graduate School, helping to set the foundation of the house of graduate studies we live and thrive in now. That I have come to occupy the position he held makes me pause and say, “Well, now, what has changed and what has been sustained?”
Especially in these last several years, the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies has undergone significant revision of its programs, including phasing out and inventing anew. In some ways, the process has been difficult, in others it has been exhilarating. And right now, we all know the element of uncertainty in the economic landscape of higher education.
Even so, right now as well, the Caspersen School has an extraordinary configuration of five Doctoral and Master’s degree programs that sustain and create anew the core power of post-baccalaureate interdisciplinary humanities that has flourished in the graduate school at Drew for over half a century. These programs share a commonality I’ll call “doing the humanities.”
Our Medical Humanities Program, our Master of Fine Arts in Poetry and Translation, our Arts and Letters Program, our Master of Arts in Teaching, and our History and Culture Program put master’s and doctoral graduate liberal arts study into mature practice. Even as these programs immerse our graduate students in canons and cultural theory, in pedagogy and content, in writing workshops and in hospital rounds, they put the post-baccalaureate experience of the advanced humanities to work in one or more ways. Such modes include: clinical practicums (MMH, DMH), poetry in an urban center (MFA), concentrating in teaching in the two-year-college (DLitt), achievement of diverse cultural experience in the classroom (MAT), or functioning as a public intellectual (H & C). This configuration is the contemporary organic development of the vibrant intellectual and civic spirit this graduate school has embodied since 1955.
These five programs put disciplinary and interdisciplinary content into social and professional context. They emphasize creating, doing, performing, advocating; they move high-end, hard-won intellectual critique into the center of our students’ lives as thinkers, makers, and citizens. They nurture students’ individual passions and allow for individual shaping of courses of study. They demand scholarly rigor; accessible, correct writing; creative risk-taking; ethical awareness; mature self-presence as a member of a supportive cohort in one’s program. They push across boundaries; they play with ideas and forms; they shape historical, medical, and critical narratives; they question received ideas and inspect the endurance of cultural institutions; they respect the accuracy of data and the logic of metaphor. They put students to work with a high order of medical professionals, historians, literary critics, writers, social scientists, experts in contemporary pedagogy—all with superior credentials and reputations in their fields.
I think master’s and doctoral work in the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies under such instructors realizes the key words in Drew’s motto: Receive and Give.
Students come to the CSGS to receive the best chance we can offer them to get the best out of their minds and talents, so that they can give back all the more to their work, family, community, their unique places in the global world.
But our students and alumni/ae know all that, because they experienced it or are experiencing it in our graduate school. As John Bicknell, looking at the CSGS in 2011, might say: Well, now.