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Meet the new dean: Historian Barbara Krauthamer will help write next chapter for Emory College
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Sylvia Carson
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Barbara Krauthamer takes the helm of Emory College of Arts and Sciences on July 1. She currently serves as dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

— Stephen Nowland, Emory Photo/Video

Newly appointed Dean of Emory College Barbara Krauthamer shares her thoughts on liberal arts education, her emerging priorities for leading and building community in the College, and her own career pathway. Read the announcement of her appointment.

Here is what Barbara Krauthamer knew upon her graduation from Dartmouth College: First, that her decision to shift her focus from neuroscience to government was the right choice. Second, she would not become a scientist following in the footsteps of either her father, a German Jewish WWII refugee who helped found what is now Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, or her mother, the first African American woman to receive a doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers.

In her first years after college, Krauthamer spent time working for public defenders’ offices in Washington, D.C., and New York, and realized she felt no spark for the field. She was, however, struck by the people she encountered each day.

What had brought them to the public defender’s office — income so low as to prevent them from making bail? What were their stories? How were their stories connected to those of the historical narratives she studied in college?

While recognizing the heroism of her colleagues, Krauthamer felt a calling that led her back to the liberal arts classrooms where she had engaged in intensive discussions about books and ideas.

Krauthamer wrote to one of her former history professors, acknowledging that she had not majored in history but had a deep interest in the field that was nudging her toward graduate school. Listing the classes she had taken in history, African American studies, and women’s studies, Krauthamer wrote, “All of these classes make sense in my mind. Do they make sense to you?” Her professor answered yes, and so, after studying for her master’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Krauthamer earned her PhD in history from Princeton University.

Here is what Krauthamer knows after years of teaching, research and leadership in higher education: “A liberal arts education, in its best form, prepares individuals to thrive in college and beyond. It allows students to consider connections and intersections across the disciplines and see the relationship between different forms of human expression.

“Literary, mathematical or cellular, understanding these connections helps students understand the human experience, interpersonal relationships and the different ways that societies and communities are structured and organized,” says Krauthamer. “We live in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing society and now, more than ever, we need people who are able to listen across differences and connect with each other.”

The values of education

Growing up in New Jersey, with parents who were the first to attend college in their families, instilled in Krauthamer principles that guide her to this day: Education is something no one can take away from you. And it is incumbent upon the educated to use their knowledge to make positive contributions to society.

During the interview process where she met with Emory College students, faculty and staff, she saw the standout qualities of the university and its community that she’d heard about through colleagues and friends. And when speaking with President Gregory L. Fenves and Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda about their vision, mutual recognition transpired. The value of a liberal arts education, the importance of access to education, and knowledge in service to humanity — each saw these ideals in the other.

“What makes Emory distinctive,” says Krauthamer, “is a sense of service. Here, education and research are in the service of human good. This is what animates my work, the belief that knowledge should benefit people.”

For Krauthamer, benefit is tied to access, and she’s excited by what she’s seen at Emory. “If we say diversity, equity and inclusion are our core values, then they should be embedded in everything we do,” she says.

“Universities are the ideal place for leading thoughtful, informed and fact-based conversations about racial and social justice, climate change, political division and other challenges we face as a society. It’s exciting to me that Emory has the experts and resources to think about these issues in so many different contexts.

“Emory stands out for its commitment to saying, ‘We’re going to address important issues through rigorous research, excellence in teaching, and by preparing students to thrive as thinkers and doers who lead with purpose.’”

This work is personal to Krauthamer. In addition to becoming the first African American appointed dean of Emory College, Krauthamer is a historian whose scholarly work has focused on slavery and emancipation in the 19th-century South, the region where her mother’s family had lived before joining the Great Migration north to New Jersey.

Listening broadly

As incoming dean, first on Krauthamer’s agenda is to listen and learn from the Emory College community. She’s eager to learn more about how Emory College delivers a life-changing education to its students as well as how new initiatives such as Student Flourishing, the Emory Initiative for Arts and Humanistic Inquiry and AI.Humanity intersect with the College’s commitment to excellence in the liberal arts as well as its ambitions to enhance the undergraduate experience and raise its research profile.

At UMass Amherst, where she has held deanships in both the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the Graduate School, Krauthamer has emphasized building leadership teams with varied leadership styles and areas of expertise. “I want to make sure that we’re having thoughtful and deep conversations with different perspectives on data and how to shape priorities and action items,” she says.

“There are many similarities in terms of what people need to thrive across the disciplines, but also unique needs and priorities that are discipline-specific,” she says. “I come to higher education as the child of scientists, so I have a deep, deep appreciation for the complexity of the work that happens in STEM departments, and a real awareness of the importance of listening to the people in those departments about what they need to excel and where they want to go over the next five to ten years.”

On her first visit, she was struck by the community’s shared passion and goals. “At Emory, everyone is committed to the institution and to advancing the university. The opportunity to be part of the excellence this university is striving for — its preeminence, the push to take research and education to the next level — was a very attractive challenge and opportunity for me,” says Krauthamer, who has been at UMass for nearly 15 years.

Creating connections

Building a strong community for students, faculty and staff is important to Krauthamer. Mentoring and professional development are on the menu, but so are the bagels she imagines staff colleagues enjoying over breakfast with the dean, a post-COVID tradition she created at UMass.

“There’s no agenda,” says Krauthamer. “It’s just a way for people to connect with each other and build community. At the end of the day, we're all real people who want to have a connection with someone else. One of my priorities is making sure there’s a truly inclusive community where everyone has what they need and feels like they can thrive.”

To this end, she’s reinvigorated in-person programming at UMass, hosting community poetry readings and inviting guest speakers that bring faculty, staff and students together to share in the university’s intellectual life.

These events are rooted in the disciplines that are being studied and taught but aren’t heavy duty. They’re opportunities to bring people together to exchange ideas and have some community,” she says. “One of the things I heard from Emory students is that they want to be involved in the intellectual life of the institution.”

Connecting with Emory alumni also excites Krauthamer, who, in her dean roles at UMass, especially enjoyed helping alumni reconnect with the university, be it talking with a student or through philanthropic giving to match their current passions with university priorities.

“Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I love hearing people’s stories about what their college experience was like and what was special to them,” says Krauthamer, who often asks alumni to share their story by speaking with current students. “Every time I’ve reached out to someone, they’ve said yes. For me, making that connection and bringing alumni and students together is so rewarding because I can see how both parties benefit from the interaction.”

Here is what Krauthamer wants you to know about her initial steps toward becoming the next dean of Emory College: First: as she walked through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, she saw an advertisement for Emory on one of the giant screens. “I thought, ‘Here’s Emory, and they’re greeting me in the airport.’ When I met President Fenves, I told him I saw Emory on the screen, and he said, ‘I know, right? Everyone should.’ And I thought, absolutely.”

Second: She’s eager to meet you, learn from you and together write the next chapter of Emory College’s history.

On a personal note

Incoming Dean Barbara Krauthamer shares a few things that help her flourish:

  • “I get up absurdly early every morning, and exercise obsessively and religiously. That is my personal time, every morning from about 4:45 to 6:45.”
  • “I’m a huge ice hockey fan, so that will be an adjustment when we move to Atlanta.”
  • “I have a couple of dear friends; we have a group text every day and are committed to spending time with each other every month. I also have three sisters, and we talk on the phone when we’re driving to work every morning. I also have two brothers, and we love them, too.”
  • “I read a lot of fiction. One of my favorite books is ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf. I read it in high school and sort of got it but didn’t get it. In college I had a professor who made it come to life for me. There's something about the study of her interiority as she moves through this society that’s been overturned by war. It’s a book I like to go back to and reread.”

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