Debra Feakes has been announced as the next Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences. Feakes has been at Texas State University since 1994. Most recently, Feakes served as the associate chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since 2012 and the interim associate director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Institute for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Education and Research since 2016.
The University of Indianapolis conducted a national search, and received about 75 applications. According to Executive Vice President & Provost Stephen Kolison, there were about 23 very compelling applicants and that pool was narrowed down to four, who were brought to campus to interview with Kolison and the search committee. Kolison said Feakes stood out because she is a great teacher, researcher and scholar, has several patents and articles published in scientific journals and she has experience with deciding the appropriate teaching load for faculty and strategic planning.
“Right now we’re working on the Academic Master Plan, which is to drive the direction of academics at this institution,” Kolison said. “So she’s coming with that kind of experience. She’s bringing things with her that would fit into some of the things we’re doing. I think she will just be a great colleague and a great leader for the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences.”
Feakes said part of the reason she feels prepared for her new role is because of her nine years on faculty senate, four of which she was the chair. She also has worked closely with the president of Texas State as a Presidential Fellow, where she worked on a project to engage non-tenure line faculty members. As the associate chair for her department, Feakes has had the opportunity to do some strategic planning. Feakes said although she has been at Texas State for 24 years, she thinks it is time to expand her horizons.
“UIndy was where I started looking, partly because I really appreciate the fact that they’re dedicated to their undergraduate mission, but, also, still looking at the professional and doctoral programs and especially in the health areas, it’s almost like a smaller version of Texas State,” Feakes said. “I appreciate that UIndy has that passion for undergraduate teaching. UIndy just felt so good. The people were so nice, I liked what they were saying and where their values were. It was a really good fit.”
Kolison said the ability for UIndy to attract a person of Feakes caliber is exciting. In 2015, local civic leader and philanthropist and Chair of the Board of Trustees Yvonne Shaheen donated $5 million to UIndy as naming gift for the Riad and Yvonne Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences. This gift made it an endowed college, which Kolison said makes it more attractive to competitive applicants.
“It’s a gift that keeps on giving, so to speak,” Kolison said. “ It made a difference in our ability to attract that number of people to want to join. It’s good because it means you have some resources as a dean to work with from the very beginning. And that’s what I’m hoping, that Debra [Feakes] will build on that and increase the resource level for the college.”
Although Feakes academic department will be the Department of Chemistry, she will work with faculty and staff from all departments within the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences. According to Feakes, her role in the faculty senate helped prepare her to work outside of her department.
“Most of my colleges [that I have been in] have either been science or science and engineering. I’ve never been in a college as diverse as this,” Feakes said. “This college has everything from theatre to physics. Having people from these different areas will help me understand more about those areas then I already have through my experience. I’m excited to work with that group because of diverse representation.”
While UIndy was going through the search process, Travis Miller served as the Interim Dean and Ted Frantz served as the Interim Associate Dean. According to the official announcement, Frantz will be fully returning to the Department of History and Political Science to focus on the things that he enjoys. But Miller will continue to work at the administrative level in the College of Arts and Sciences as the Senior Associate Dean.
Miller said he is looking forward to working alongside Feakes and helping bring her energy and vision to the college. According to Feakes, she and Miller have weekly phone conversations to help her transition and learn about the university. She said she is glad that he will be staying on for the next two years.
Kolison said Miller brings the experience of being a department chair and the interim deal, so he will be able to greatly assist Feakes in her transition and the day-to-day operation of the college. Miller will focus on day-to-day operations and matters that have to do with budgeting, Kolison said.
“This allows the dean to focus on long range planning for the college,” he said. “She will focus that on how do you position the college to be successful in years to come…. This is our largest college—it is an endowed college—so we have to put in place the right structure for the dean to be successful, so this way she will have the kind of support she needs.”
According to Kolison, some of the things Feakes will focus on include long range planning, enrollment and financial goals and thinking about the types of programs to have and faculty to hire. Kolison said Feakes has shown a lot of enthusiasm during her campus visits.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to know UIndy better,” Feakes said. “I’ve been very impressed with my visits so far and the people seem like very excellent and like outstanding colleagues.”
Feakes will start her new role on July 1.