Valerie Smith, the founding director of Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and a longtime faculty member, will become the next dean of the college in July 2011, the University announced Dec. 14.
Smith, a literature scholar who has spent a total of 19 years at the University, succeeds Nancy Weiss Malkiel, dean of the college for the last 24 years. The dean of the college is Princeton’s top undergraduate academic officer, overseeing admissions, financial aid, and the residential colleges.
In an interview with PAW, Smith cited two areas of special interest to her: the University’s internationalization initiative, and how the dean of the college’s office can support it and raise student interest in opportunities abroad; and the residential college system, which she called the “real centerpiece of the life of the University – the life of the college – where social life and academic life come together.” She said she hopes to create an “even more vibrant community in the life of the colleges.”
Smith also said she felt the Center for African American Studies had met the ambitious goals outlined by President Tilghman in launching the center. She pointed to growth in the faculty, creating a distinguished visiting scholars program, expanding the curriculum, partnering with departments and programs across campus, and increasing the number of certificate students and thesis projects. “Across the country, many institutions look to Princeton as a success story,” she said of the center’s activities.
Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, who chaired the nine-member search committee, described Smith as someone who has consistently valued collaboration among faculty, students, and alumni, adding that her ability to collaborate and to listen were hallmarks of her work in helping to launch the Center for African American Studies.
Smith taught at Princeton from 1980-89 before leaving for the University of California, Los Angeles. She returned to Princeton in 2001 and became director of the new Center for African American Studies in 2006. More recently, Smith earned acclaim for her teaching, receiving the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2009. Her extensive writings about African-American literature include the forthcoming book Toni Morrison: Writing the Moral Imagination, due for release in June 2011.
Look for more about Smith’s appointment in the Jan. 19, 2011, issue of PAW.