On 100 Days as Interim Dean
A message from Sara Sanders

On 100 Days as Interim Dean

Sara SandersHello, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Colleagues!

I'm writing to address the college as I mark my 100th day in the position of Interim Dean. I have appreciated your support and the energy you have brought into the Fall 2020 semester. The concerns you have raised and solutions provided have been so helpful, and the hope you have for the next phase of our college’s life is inspiring. I want to use this 100th day to frame where we are heading during the next 100 days as a college community.   

The last 99 days have been quite a whirlwind for me personally, assuming the position of Interim Dean for CLAS in the midst of a pandemic that is worsening throughout our country, and a time of deep racial and societal unrest nationwide, with the Black Lives Matter movement leading us toward large-scale systemic reform. And of course, just last week, we experienced a divisive Presidential election that has challenged each of us to see the good in opposing perspectives and views. It's been exhausting, but also exhilarating—I love this college and relish the opportunity to serve in this capacity.

These are times that remind us of the fundamental power and promise of the liberal arts and sciences:

  • With our teaching and learning, we ensure that today’s and tomorrow’s college graduates are ethically grounded, with the ability to learn from the whole of humanity’s past, imagine an ever-more inclusive future, and adapt to ever-shifting circumstances.
  • Our research mission brings new discoveries that forever transform our world. Our scholarship, scientific inquiry, and artistry help to make our societies more compassionate and just, combating ignorance and hatred with knowledge and understanding.
  • And we serve Iowa, the United States, and the world by helping to solve critical problems and develop new frontiers.

While 2020 has created challenges for our college, I cannot thank you enough for how you have stepped up, adapted, and continued to lead in all the ways that we are known for in CLAS. Despite the challenges, your academic and research excellence continues to emerge from our college’s labs, studios, and classrooms. I celebrate the honors and accomplishments of our collegiate community, and I truly believe it is the PEOPLE—each and every one of you—that makes Iowa a place to spend a career.   

Are there areas of the college we need to strengthen and improve? Absolutely. Are there aspects of our college that need to change? Without a doubt. But I firmly believe that through the efforts of my team, the commitment of CLAS faculty and staff, and the passion of our students, we will look back and feel proud that when we were at a crossroads—faced with the choice of giving in or moving in innovative new directions—we chose to take action. As a community, we took the opportunity to outline a direction that will better prepare our students to thrive in the decades to come and continue to expand our research and scholarly excellence throughout the College.

The challenges we are facing are real and daunting. But I am inspired by the work that people throughout CLAS are doing to not just cope with the current crisis, but to advance us toward our long-term strategic goals. Here are some examples:

  • Our research and arts enterprise, despite the troubles we’ve encountered during the coronavirus crisis, continues to be productive. Every day, I learn of a new award or grant or publication or performance that inspires me and solidifies my confidence in your abilities to flourish as explorers and discoverers.  In this age of COVID, our arts units have found innovative ways to be safe and productive, scholars have won top fellowships and national disciplinary awards for books and articles, and scientists have landed grants to study everything from hypertension to the brain to how to defeat the coronavirus.
  • Our instructors and staff continue to deliver on our educational commitment—whether in person or online—by ensuring that course content is relevant and reflective of the needs of society and our students. You continually innovate and develop curricula that meet the times we are in. THANK YOU for your professionalism and imagination in sustaining our teaching excellence in the face of such unprecedented disruption.
  • Our budgetary situation has required us to make difficult decisions, the same as what is being faced by public universities nationwide. But, we will remain an institution of distinction by staying true to the core values of CLAS, the UI, and the liberal arts and sciences, and by including all voices in our decision-making. If we do that, we will emerge from this period not just intact, but even more empowered to excel. With that as a baseline charge, an ad hoc CLAS Budget Committee, comprising faculty and staff from across the college, will be reaching out for your input. I am grateful for the commitment and energy of the committee members and its co-chairs, Collegiate Budget Officer Erin Herting and Professor Mark Blumberg, Chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences and F. Wendell Miller Professor. 
  • Our commitment to the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not a response to current crises—it is fundamental to our values as a place of higher learning and as a compassionate community. By offering educational opportunity to individuals from every background; providing the tools and resources necessary for genuine equity among all of our colleagues and students; and including everyone in making decisions and creating community, we are simply fulfilling our mission of expanding human knowledge and understanding. Each of you contributes to that work in unique and meaningful ways, and our CLAS DEI Committee (and new Student DEI Advisory Committee) look forward to engaging with you in the coming months as we implement our 2020-21 CLAS DEI Action Plan.

For all of us, the next 100 days will present both challenges and opportunities. And together, we will shape our future. We will finalize our strategic plan and initiate a process that will guide us to new horizons. To that end, we want you to continue to reflect on the question, “Who do we want to be as a college in the next five years?”, and to share your thoughts and ideas by email or at upcoming forums. That plan will be completed by March 1, and will take effect on July 1.

And we will work with the university on our comprehensive collegiate review, which happens every seven years or so. As part of the review, we will ask you to contribute over the coming months to an exhaustive self-study. After that internal process, a team of external reviewers will evaluate our academic and administrative operations, seeking input from faculty, staff, and students. Taken together, these processes offer exciting opportunities for us to showcase and celebrate our many successes, and to help us chart our path forward. Keep your eyes out for a survey from the CLAS self-study committee in early December, which will provide crucial information for our internal self-examination.

In the midst of overlapping crises, we have a fundamental choice to make as a college. Will we get stuck in the mud and succumb to negativity and pessimism? Or will we gather the strength to forge new paths together, and realize our highest potential with passion and resolve?

Having seen all of you in action from this new perspective as your Interim Dean, I’m betting on the latter! Let’s take a deep breath, take some risks, and take control of our future.

I look forward to working with each of you to make this happen. I can’t wait to see where we end up.

Thank you for your amazing work and resilience.

All the best,




Sara Sanders, Interim Dean
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Professor of Social Work
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences