Christopher Celenza, the second of three candidates for dean of USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, spoke to students and faculty on Monday about why he wants the position, why he has the relevant experience to take it on and why he believes he is best suited for the job.
Celenza holds two Ph.D.s — one in history from Duke University and one in Neo-Latin Literature from the University of Hamburg, and is currently the vice dean for humanities and social sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
Celenza spent four years as the Director of the American Academy in Rome where he oversaw fundraising and administration and became an interim librarian.
Celenza said his experience managing the Academy in Rome made him realize that this position was something he “could do well, really loved doing and wanted to do in a larger context.”
When questioned about his plans to further the science programs at USC, Celenza admitted that though he does not have a background in the sciences, he has done his research and said that the biggest problem facing science majors today is a lack of funding for risky ventures.
“One thing I would suggest for the science is that we work really hard to develop innovation funds,” Celenza said. “Good science often involves risk, it often involves disruption and USC needs to have that environment where people can feel comfortable going after their riskier ideas.”
If chosen as dean, Celenza said that his first three to six months on the job would be “listening months.”
“[My] focus will be on interacting with department chairs, institute heads and interested groups of undergraduates,” Celenza said. “Then we can spend the next academic year coming up with focus groups that can really operationalize those ideas in a structured three- to five-year plan.”
One of Celenza’s main goals at USC is to be present in campus life. He wants to be someone that people can easily reach out to and talk to about issues in Dornsife.
“A dean, even though they might be busy, has to be able to reach out to individuals,” Celenza said. “If someone’s not convinced, they must do all they can to make them feel respected and listen hard to what they say.”
Celenza believes that a main problem undergraduates face is that they tend to change jobs every five years. Because of that, his goal for undergraduate students is to foster resilience because employers need flexibility in their employees.
Celenza said that there should be a strong emphasis on proximity and presence to foster conversations and ideas that can further a school.
“I would love to see experiential learning programs, collective spaces where undergraduates can gather to discuss things they are passionate about,” Celenza said.
Dornsife’s previous dean Stephen Kay left the job earlier than expected, and many in attendance were curious about whether Celenza would look at this position as simply a stepping stone to greater things.
When asked about his future plans beyond the position of dean, Celenza responded that USC is an ideal destination in his professional career and that he would want to stay as long as possible.
On his leadership style, Celenza said that he believes in “finding the right leadership teams and giving them the gift of trust.”
One of the attendees, Senior Administrator for Dornsife Architectural Services James McElwain, said these forums were incredibly helpful in allowing the faculty and students to get to know their prospective dean.
“I love the fact that they’re willing to have us speak with the candidates. You just get a little taste of who this person is,” McElwain said.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Quick has not yet released the name of the third and final candidate.