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UW-Madison names Hess School of Education dean

June 2, 2015 By Käri Knutson

Diana Hess, senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago, has been named dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Hess, who is also a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the UW, will begin Aug. 1.

Photo: Diana Hess

Diana Hess

Hess will replace Julie Underwood, who is returning to the faculty after a decade as dean.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Diana’s experience, passion and commitment to education,” says Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf. “I look forward to working with her.”

Hess has a doctorate from the University of Washington, a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University. Her connection to UW–Madison began in 1999, when she was hired as an assistant professor. Hess started her career in education as a high school social studies teacher.

“I am thrilled to be selected as the next dean of the nation’s premier public school of education,” Hess says. “While we should be justifiably proud of the excellent work our faculty, staff and students are doing, it is also clear that we are heading into challenging times. We will need to develop innovative and effective programs; maintain our focus on producing first-rate research and scholarship that can inform policy and practice; continue to set and meet the highest possible standards for excellence in the classroom; and continuously improve the preparation of Wisconsin’s public school teachers and leaders.”

Last year, Hess co-authored a book with Paula McAvoy, “The Political Classroom: Ethics and Evidence in Democratic Education.” Her research interests include the impact of school-based civic education programs on youth political and civic engagement and how students experience and learn from discussions of highly controversial political issues. A previous book, “Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion,” won the National Council for the Social Studies Exemplary Research Award in 2009.

“Diana has made important and lasting contributions during her time with us,” says Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, an organization that funds research to improve education policy and practice. “She has made our longstanding work on the often neglected topic of civic education more focused and effective, especially through advancing the study of the quality as well as the sheer quantity of civic activity. She also played the central role in creating our Disciplined Dialogues program, and has been a very effective spokesperson for the foundation.”

David Kaplan, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, chaired a 17-member search committee, which recommended the finalists to the provost.

The dean, who reports to the chancellor through the provost, serves as the chief academic and executive officer of the school with responsibilities in the areas of staffing, budget, curriculum, student academic affairs, and space, as well as fundraising and alumni relations. The school employs approximately 137 faculty, 171 instructional staff, 401 academic staff and limited appointments, and 94 classified staff.

The School of Education is consistently ranked as one of the top schools of education in the nation and is currently the No. 1 public School of Education according to U.S. News & World Report. Nine programs in the school are ranked in the top three. The school comprises nine academic departments; the nationally recognized Wisconsin Center for Education Research; and an array of outreach services. The school also has a separate supporting nonprofit organization — the Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services.