Thank You, Bruce
By Craig Garaas-Johnson and Luke Heuskin
Release Date: June 22, 2016
Deans are unique people. Generally beginning their academic careers as scholars, they learn the meticulous craft and secret language of a discipline, and engage in a culture of research. As they climb the academic ranks, some develop into project leaders, center directors, or department chairs, where the compression between administrative duties and advocating for faculty needs escalates.
At the next level, leading a college or school, pressures intensify, as deans become enterprise-level administrators, fierce faculty and student advocates, and fundraisers. Finding this combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities is rare at the best of times. Add to that the need for ethical decision-making and high integrity, and one can quickly see how difficult finding a good dean can be.
With the increasing degree of difficulty, and under steadily mounting pressure, some will surrender, while others succeed, rising to meet the challenge. In 2011, UB found such an individual in E. Bruce Pitman, a noted researcher and professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Mathematics, adjunct professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and associate dean for research and sponsored programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Pitman led the College’s first-ever strategic planning process, established joint departments across academic units, launched several initiatives to strengthen the College’s scholarly impact, created a Center for Experiential Learning, and hired more than 120 faculty.
Yet, a simple list of accomplishments presents an incomplete picture. Pitman’s strengths as a Dean would be best measured in the thousands of encouraging moments he’s shared with faculty, students, and staff. Humble yet confident, as unique people go Pitman is a rare individual.
During his tenure, Pitman founded the College Ambassador program, made up of students from every department. According to one ambassador, the experience was much more than a resume builder. “Dean Pitman showed a genuine dedication to us students and our experiences at UB, making himself available to hear our thoughts and get a true idea of what we think of the College of Arts and Sciences,” says Dante Iozzo, a recent UB graduate in Physics and Mathematics. “Through meeting him and talking about different areas of research I hadn’t previously considered, he changed my future career path.”
According to Marcia Pitman, “the CAS Ambassadors program has provided Bruce with an opportunity to mentor and support his ambassadors. Bruce has really enjoyed the time spent with these outstanding students.”
Representing the scope of the College of Arts and Sciences, the College Ambassadors emphasize the breadth of liberal education, an idea Bruce Pitman values. “There’s the classic idea of education as enrichment of your life. I still hold to it,” says Pitman. “The notion of the educated person, and that education enabling one to understand the way the earth moves, reading great literature and be enriched by the adventures of old—at the core, that’s still my idealization of liberal education.”
For Pitman, education is a lifelong pursuit and pleasure. Encouraging others to challenge themselves comes naturally, and according to many in the College, Pitman’s support has left a lasting impression.
“Working with Bruce always felt like a working partnership rather than a relationship that was focused on hierarchy or status,” says Michelle Benson, associate professor in the Department of Political Science. “He recommended that I run for position of chair of the Policy Committee and was genuinely interested in making sure that women play a leadership role in the college.”
“Bruce’s dedication to education and outreach is exemplified in what has now become the Eric Pitman Annual Workshop in Computational Science in which every year Bruce organizes and runs a two-week workshop for high school students that is run through the Center for Computational Research,” says Thomas Furlani, director of the Center for Computational Research. “Indeed, many of the “graduates” of our workshop are now well into their professional careers as scientists, doctors, and engineers.”
Clearly it is not just students who benefitted from Pitman’s encouragement and support.
“In an era of short sighted cost cutting, downsizing and retrenchment in arts funding, Bruce tried his damnedest to staunch the bloodletting,” says Jonathan D. Katz, interim chair in the Department of Art. “He knows and honors the outsized role the arts have played, and continue to play, in establishing UB’s bona fides.”
“When Bruce accepted the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he took on one of the most difficult jobs on campus,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education, dean of the Graduate School, and professor of English. “Throughout his tenure as dean, Bruce has been a tireless advocate for the College and for the importance of liberal education. Under his leadership the College has created new visiting professorships in the arts and humanities and inaugurated the Creative Arts Initiative.”
Leadership is more than being a manager. Knowledge of the past, a vision for the future, and a command of the facts in the present are only the beginning. Good leaders realize they are not building a monument to themselves, but a better foundation for those who follow. The best leaders do the right thing when everyone else is afraid, and by this metric, Pitman was a strong leader for the College.
“Over the past five years, the College has made immense strides in graduate recruitment, alumni engagement, and community outreach. Bruce has laid a very strong foundation for the college to meet the challenges of liberal education in the 21st-century,” says Hammill.
With sincere respect and gratitude, the College of Arts and Sciences wishes Dean Pitman much success in his next adventure.