Kate Conley began her tenure as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences on July 1, 2012. Previously she served as Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Arts and Humanities, Dartmouth College, and was the Edward Tuck Professor of French and Comparative Literature. (cv) Here she shares some thoughts about her academic background, role, and interests.
In my case it wasn't a clear path to graduate school. After college I started work as an assistant in the circulation department at The Old House Journal back when it was still a newsletter, and worked my way up to writing articles as an assistant editor. The decorative arts editor and I then had a chance to create Victorian Homes magazine, which we basically launched from her dining room. I was building a career in book publishing in Colorado when a kind French professor helped me envision an academic career, for which I am grateful to this day.
Focus as a scholar
Most of my scholarly work has concerned surrealism, the most influential avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. The surrealists believed that if we can open ourselves up to "chance" we can see the world in new ways and gain insights into the world and ourselves. Their contributions continue to influence art being produced today—especially installation art, video, and film.
I'm very interested in exploring surrealism to make connections among history, culture, and the arts. One of my main conclusions about surrealist collections has been that they are about creating environments with things, often things that are themselves loaded with memories, with past lives, with ghosts. This idea of ghostly informs the structure of my current book, Surrealist Ghostliness, which discusses surrealism as a movement haunted by the experience of World War I.
Role as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
It's a huge responsibility. Along with our select graduate programs, we are stewards of the undergraduate liberal arts education. Every freshman begins study in Arts & Sciences, and about 90 percent of graduating seniors hold one or more of our majors. As Dean, I'm on point for day-to-day management of our whole academic operation and, with my fellow faculty and deans, for the intellectual leadership that keeps us current.
Thoughts on the liberal arts generally
William and Mary has a strong internal culture that understands, values, and excels in the liberal arts education. Our educational model teaches students to think carefully and critically and to make new connections between various kinds of knowledge. In this, I agree completely with today's corporate CEOs: To meet our many challenges, we need the liberal arts skills now more than ever.
My husband, Richard Stamelman, teaches French poetry, culture, and art, including photography, and he loves taking pictures. This has made us wonderfully compatible in our pursuits and travels. Museums, historic sites, local arts and artists, restaurants – we enjoy a wide range of people and interests.
A version of these remarks appeared in the William and Mary Alumni Magazine, Fall 2012.