Graduate School Dean reflects on his first year

In a recent interview with the Department of Philosophy's Thinking Duck, Graduate School Dean Scott Pratt reflected on his transition from his role of professor to leader of the graduate school, and shared his visions for the school going forward.

What differentiates administrative from academic work?

For me, my work as an administrator is continuous with my work as a philosopher and a teacher.  As a teacher, my task is to provide students with what John Dewey called “educative experiences”—opportunities to engage problems in ways that help them think about meaning and values. A successful education is one that expands and enriches students’ experiences and lays the ground for life-long learning.  My research—focusing on how agents actively order their experiences (and the experiences of others)—provides a framework for my teaching and writing.  This work at the intersection of teaching and research has led to a couple of textbooks—one on logic and the other on the history of American philosophy— and a wide range of courses that take up issues of pluralism, race, gender, education and logic. 

Of course, my work as a teacher and scholar are made possible by a university organized in a way that supports this sort of work with funding, library resources, technology, classrooms, and, most importantly, students, who are as much a part of my learning as I am of theirs.  But universities do not organize themselves.  Occasionally, those of us who teach need to step back from that work in order to support the work of colleagues and students by setting the stage for their work.  This sort of support sometimes means serving on committees or the University Senate, at other times it means helping with the faculty union, and occasionally it even means serving as dean.

Do you like the work?

Over the last year, the Graduate School has helped to transform graduate education by significantly increasing funding to PhD students and establishing quality metrics to help programs and departments set goals.  We’ve established a new scholarship program for graduate students from the nine federally recognized Indian Tribes of Oregon and expanded by 12 the number of doctoral dissertation fellowships awarded each year by the university.  I’ve also gotten to know a lot about the diversity and quality of the UO’s graduate programs and have had the chance to work with many faculty and administrators committed to the value of graduate education in the context of a liberal arts university.  In short, I’ve really enjoyed being the Dean of the Graduate School and I look forward to a few more years in the role. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing graduate education at UO?

Two challenges.  First, graduate students, especially PhD students, need funding to complete their work.  The next generation of scholars and college teachers do not just happen.  Salaries for college professors and instructors, like those of teachers everywhere, are often low.  In order to make it possible to have a next generation, the university, donors and state governments need to fund both undergraduate and graduate students.  High indebtedness can block access to graduate education and, after degrees are awarded, can block the ability to accept the relatively low salaries of beginning college teachers. I’m hoping to establish a Graduate School Advisory Board over the next two years that will include alumni who can help address the funding needs of our students.

Second, job placement for our graduates.  Graduate degrees are increasingly important to long-term success in careers.  People with graduate degrees on average earn 75% more than those with Bachelors degrees over their careers.  But these successful careers are not always academic.  The Graduate School and graduate programs at the UO need to diversify career support for students, helping to make it clear how the skills and knowledge students have learned in graduate study apply to many different fields and kinds of work.  The Graduate School is working on developing career support for graduate students across the university who want to seriously consider careers outside the academy.  We hope to offer career planning courses for the first time next year.

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