Maud Mandel: A welcome interview with the Dean of the College

Maud Mandel is still in the first few months of her new position as the Dean of the College, and we thought that there was no better way to welcome her than to sit her down and interrogate interview her. Dean Mandel graciously agreed, and we’re thrilled to share her thoughts here.

We will admit that since Dean Katherine Bergeron, the previous DoC, left Brown to become the president of Connecticut College, there has been KBerge-sized hole left on Blog and in our hearts. We also have to say, however, that Dean Mandel is already filling that gap, and she is poised to become the new star of BlogDH’s photoshop game. Read on for Dean Mandel’s thoughts on her role as DoC, capes, her book, Beyoncé, and more:

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

BlogDailyHerald: What was your path to Brown?
Dean Maud Mandel: I went to Oberlin College in Ohio, which is a small liberal arts school with an open curriculum. I was an English major, and then I worked for a year before going to graduate school in history at the University of Michigan. I got a PhD in the subfield of Modern Jewish History, and I was just finishing up my doctorate when a position opened up as a visiting professor in Jewish History at Brown. So I came here, and it was a wonderful opportunity because it brought together these two paths – the open liberal arts curriculum of my undergraduate years and the serious research of my graduate school years. I couldn’t have found a better fit. And I’ve been here ever since—I say they’ll have to cart me out in a coffin.

BlogDH: What are your big plans for the year as Dean of the College?
My first plan is just to get used to this new job. It’s a really different path for me, after years of being a faculty person, to step into this really wonderful group of people and this crown jewel of Brown, the college.

Beyond that, of course, I have larger issues that I’m particularly interested in pursuing. One is advising at Brown. One of my hopes is to figure out how I can make this not just a wonderful place for advising, but the best place for advising. That means working on concentration advising, and it also means figuring out ways in which arriving first-years could feel even more supported in their initial advising encounter at Brown.

The other issue  that is really on my mind is thinking about how we can enhance skill-building at Brown. In your classes, you’re studying a series of skills—writing, research, problem-solving, data analysis—but there’s not actually that much attention paid to how those skills improve. So we’re thinking about various ways in which we can create a learning center where students can think about ways to link the curriculum to those skills.

BlogDH: How does it feel to follow the legacy of Dean Bergeron?
MM: Katherine Bergeron did a lot to up the profile of the Dean of the College on the Brown campus and in the wider administration. I think what she was terrific at doing was explaining to everyone why the DoC office really matters, why it is in many ways the heart of much of what is going on at this university. So I feel grateful to be following in her footsteps. But luckily, no one person finishes a job, so she laid a foundation for some of the things I’m interested in. I hope to be able to build on that strong foundation and go in new directions, too.

BlogDH: On that note, do you own a comparable piece of clothing to KBerge’s cape?
: It’s funny, I actually do have a cape—
BlogDH: You have a cape?!
: I wear it very differently. It goes over my heaviest winter coat to make it even warmer. But I wear an enormous number of scarves; I’m a scarf person. So rather than one cape, I have many scarves. I love the way they give a burst of color to an otherwise drab day.

BlogDH: What has been your favorite moment at Brown so far?
: I’m really bad at singling out single moments. I would say that my favorite moments are the times in classes where students start to talk to each other instead of to me about the subject that we are talking about. That’s like a magical moment; it doesn’t happen in every course in every semester, but it happens here more than in many places, and that’s really what I love about teaching at this institution.

BlogDH: Do you read BlogDailyHerald?
: I do now! I’m getting to know the Blog very well, and I find it very entertaining and informative.

BlogDH: Are you nervous to have your head photoshopped based on the whims of our creative team?
: Yes! I am! Yes! Be kind!
BlogDH: Is there anything you’d like your head photoshopped onto in particular?
Oh dear, I didn’t know I had a vote. Brilliant and inspiring women.
BlogDH: Do you want to see what they’ve come up with so far?
MM: Is it a brilliant and inspiring woman?


MM: Alright, that’s very good. Perfect.

BlogDH: Do you use Facebook?
: I do, although thus far I’ve used it entirely as a private platform, not a public one. I might have to rethink that, but currently that’s my mode.
BlogDH: You might have seen that we deconstructed Dean Bergeron’s Facebook profile—
MM: That’s why mine is private.

BlogDH: Spider-Man or Batman?
: Spider-Man.
BlogDH: Good answer.

BlogDH: We heard that you just wrote a book. What is the subject, and do any of its themes tie into your work as the DoC?
: Oh, that’s a great question. I just finished a book called Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict. The book ties into a long-standing interest of mine, which is how various ethnic minorities, particularly Jewish minorities, have integrated into European society. But the book is about how groups get along or don’t, and why, and how we come to see each other as polarized when in fact a lot of evidence suggests that all kinds of people are interacting in daily ways that are not in conflict.

Insofar as how it connects to my DoC work, thinking about how groups get along, particularly ethnic, racial or religious groups, is the stuff of what we study and think about at a university. We bring diverse groups of people together, and there are sometimes conflicts and misunderstandings, and huge assumptions made about each other. And one of the things we’re trying to do on a university campus is understand that things are far more complex than they may seem superficially. Also, studying people in conflict often prepares you very well for campuses in conflict, so thinking about that may prepare me for some of the struggles ahead.

BlogDH: If you could take any class at Brown, what would it be?
: I’ve wanted for years to take Intro to Neuroscience. The brain is this incredibly fascinating tool and part of us; it’s one of those things on the side that I want to explore and think about. And I know it’s such a popular class here, so I’m both interested in the buzz and in the subject matter very much. 

BlogDH: What are you watching on TV right now?
: I love Mad Men. I tend to watch things seasons beyond when they were actually on, so I’m catching up on Modern Family at the moment. Orange is the New Black I watched as well, but often after everybody else—I’m running to catch up.

BlogDH: What’s the weirdest thing in your office?
: Oh, the weirdest thing in my office… I’ll get it. The weirdest thing is probably this gift that my sister-in-law gave me a few years ago, which divides up the human brain into all the different things that you obsess about in a particular day. So that’s probably the weirdest, but also the most entertaining.

maud mandel ceramic head

BlogDH: We’ve heard that you’re holding office hours on the Main Green with cookies. Is this true?
That’s right! Yes, I’ve decided either nobody is going to come talk to me or everybody is. And yes, there are going to be cookies, so in case people can’t think of a reason to come talk to me, they can always come get a cookie and say hello. If readers think it’s a good idea, maybe I’ll go to the Ratty when it gets cold outside, and do a version of hanging out with students there. [Readers: y/n/m?]

BlogDH: In honor of your predecessor, would you play BergeMash for us?
: Here you go:

POLS1822 — Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It): Defenses of Capitalism
CLPS1180A — Who Let the Dogs Out: Canine Behavior
PHIL1670 — Feels Like the First: Time
ENGN1700 — Born to Run: Jet Engines and Aerospace Propulsion
POLS1822C — We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Congress

MM: Are you going to keep the name, though?
BlogDH: BergeMash? Well…
: No I don’t mind, I believe in history, it’s tradition.
BlogDH: True, we can come up with a new game, though.
: MandelMash? [Ed: We need to make this a thing.]

BlogDH: What advice do you want to give to the class of 2018, and to the Brown community?
: Take risks; challenge yourself; have fun.

BlogDH: Ratty or V-Dub?
: I think I’ll go Ratty. It was closer to my old office, so that’s where I spent more of my time.

BlogDH: Any last thoughts?
: Just looking forward to chatting with you over the years, and—be nice.

Don’t worry, Dean Mandel, we’ll play nice. We’re obsessed with you already.

Image via.

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