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Physics prof. settles in as an associate dean of the College

Friday, November 2, 2007

Professor of Physics James Valles, who holds the newly created position of associate dean of the College for curriculum, is particularly busy this fall. In addition to his regular teaching responsibilities, part of his new job includes helping to review the University’s curriculum. The position was created this semester to “bring together some of the groups that work on the same things to provide greater focus,” said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.

Though Valles’ title is new, the Office of the Dean of the College still has the same number of deans. The only change this year is the specificity of the position. Previously, every dean in the Office was considered an associate dean, without tags specifying their particular responsibilities. In an effort to help students understand the different deans’ responsibilities, the office has been assigning specific titles to each dean, Bergeron said.

Last year, Bergeron sent out a letter to the faculty asking for recommendations for the position of dean of curriculum. “There were many qualified people, but (Valles) came highly recommended,” Bergeron said.

In addition to his responsibilities as a dean, Valles will continue to teach and conduct research as a faculty member. Because of this, he will be able to provide special insight into the curriculum, Bergeron said. “The (dean of the College’s) office has always had the presence of a faculty member. It was kind of a regular, rotating position. With that structure in mind, I wanted to preserve that,” Bergeron said.

Bergeron said Valles is especially qualified for this three-year position because of his strong relationships with students. “He’s a highly competent teacher and a really devoted undergraduate mentor and a highly accomplished scholar,” she said.

Valles said he will help expand the first-year seminar program, assist students with group and individual independent study projects and work with the College Curriculum Council’s screening committee. “I’m adjusting to the job, still,” Valles said. “I’m still fitting it into my schedule. In some ways it is a positive impact on everything, but on some days there are a few too many e-mails that come in.”

For the past 15 years, Valles has taught and researched on College Hill. He took the dean position because he said he liked the idea of the faculty interacting directly with the deans. “This way, the deans can know real-time faculty points of view, and it gives faculty a direct alternative to contact the deans,” Valles said.

Michael Stewart GS, who has worked with Valles for about six years, said he was not surprised Valles was offered the position. “I knew that he was passionate about helping students get the most out of their classes,” Stewart said.

Though the deans in the office of dean of the College have always had many diverse responsibilities, most curricular aspects of the office were not always clearly associated with a single dean, Bergeron said. “None of the roles are new,” she said, “but what is new, for example, is to have the first-year seminar program separated from the first-year dean’s office.”

Valles will oversee some deans who work with research and tutoring programs, sitting ex-officio on the College Curriculum Council screening committee. Valles said he enjoys the work, especially because he believes he can offer insight into the process of improving the curriculum.

In addition to this position, Valles is continuing to do research in low-temperature condensed matter physics on superconductors as well as biological physics on levitation using very strong magnets in order to study the effects of gravity on biological systems.

Although the position brings with it many obligations, Valles said, “Honestly, priorities always clash for a professor at Brown, but now it’s no more so than before.”

Valles said the position has been an “interesting challenge.”

“I’ve always believed that the faculty really are compassionate and have not had any reason to think otherwise about the deans… the deans do really care about helping the students,” Valles said.

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