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Sandefur to step down as dean, return to faculty

July 11, 2012 By Stacy Forster

The dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s largest college has said he will step down from that post at the end of the upcoming academic year.

Photo: Gary Sandefur

Gary Sandefur, dean of the university’s largest college since 2004, will step down as dean in 2013.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Gary Sandefur, who has headed the College of Letters and Science since August 2004, says that after wrapping up his work as dean in 2013, he will go on research leave for a year, then return to the faculty of the Department of Sociology.

Sandefur plans to eventually retire and move to Oklahoma with his wife, Kathy, where they both grew up and still have family.

Sandefur leads a college that houses 40 departments, 60 interdisciplinary research centers and five professional schools across the arts and humanities, physical and natural sciences, and the social sciences.

“The college continues to excel in education, research and public service, ” Sandefur says, despite several years without a pay plan, while at the same time facing budget cuts. As dean, Sandefur has overseen the hiring of extra faculty through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, a tuition surcharge that has funded new faculty to clear bottlenecks in popular courses.

“We have some extraordinary faculty that, in part, we were able to hire because of the Madison Initiative,” Sandefur says. “Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to hire these great people.”

Sandefur also centralized alumni and donor outreach efforts of the college under an associate dean for advancement. He often refers to his work with alumni as one of his favorite parts of the job, and he played a key role in securing some major gifts from individuals. Likewise, his work with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other private foundations led to significant support for the humanities across campus.

His goal over the coming year is to ensure that the College of Letters and Science and the next dean are well positioned to take advantage of innovative opportunities and thrive in the face of the many challenges facing higher education and especially the liberal arts.

Prior to his service as dean, Sandefur was a professor of sociology, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, as well as the director of the American Indian Studies Program.

By the time he retires, Sandefur will have spent more than three decades at UW–Madison, and says he expects he’ll miss the excitement of each fall semester, when students return to campus.

“One day it’s quiet, and the next, there are thousands of people walking around,” Sandefur says. “I love this place…It really made me what I am, and I feel like I’ve given back to the university in various ways through my teaching, research and leadership.”

In Oklahoma, Sandefur plans to research and write a sequel to “And Still the Waters Run,” a book published by Princeton University Press in 1940 that chronicled the near destruction of five Indian nations moved to Oklahoma in the 1800s, including the Chickasaws, of which Sandefur is a member.

The book predicts the disappearance of the Indian nations, but Sandefur says he wants to tell the story of their resurgence. Most of the archival materials and people he needs to interview are in Oklahoma, which is another factor in his retirement plans.

“I’ve always wanted to do it, I just haven’t had time,” Sandefur says. “This will give me something to work on besides fishing, reading and gardening.”