UTSA, COLFA dean, forums, Dr. Rhonda Gonzales, Dr, Stuart Benkert


Xavier Richardson, Staff Writer

The open forums for the College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA) dean candidates came to a close Feb. 24 and 26 with Dr. Rhonda Gonzales, interim COLFA dean at UTSA, and Dr. Staurt Benkert, head of the department of performing arts at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively.

Early in her forum, Gonzales spoke about the importance of COLFA in UTSA’s goal of becoming a global university.

“This is an area where I can say, firmly, that — in my belief — there is no ‘UTSA to the world’ without a College of Liberal and Fine Arts and the departments that it houses,” Gonzales said. “We are what makes UTSA a comprehensive regional institution. We are the democratization of knowledge.”

Gonzales later referenced feedback she received from students regarding the lack of a student success center for COLFA and how she is taking steps to implement one in the near future.

“I don’t know if what [students] imagined goes on behind the walls of those student success centers, but all they know is they do not have one,” Gonzales said. “And so together we talked about what kinds of services those might be for our students. Along those lines, I have put forward a proposal for a non-mandatory fee for our college that would allow us to stand up the Center for Academic and Professional Enrichment, also known as the COLFA CAPE.”

In the final COLFA dean candidate forum, Benkert suggested COLFA reevaluate how it values its faculty as one of the first steps in becoming a Carnegie R1 university. This is the highest ranking for research universities, designated as “very high research activity,” according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“The bottom line is, we need a suitable salary for everybody. Regardless of what we call people, if they’re here, they’re invested in here,” Benkert said. “This is their home. This is where they live. This is where they work. We need to make it so that the two things that are important to people are time and treasure. So if they’re giving us their time, we need to make sure we’re giving them treasure, and if they’re giving us treasure then we need to make sure we’re giving them time.”

Benkert later spoke about his past experience changing the approach of general education to focus on professionally applicable skills as opposed to only leadership.

“We think what corporations want is leaders. They are so tired of students coming in and telling them that they led something; they want to know what students can do,” Benkert said. “One of the comments they got was ‘I got this kid that came in and led this project but he can’t write a cogent email,’ so how am I supposed to know he really did this thing he said he did?”

Now that the forums have come to an end, the COLFA dean search advisory committee will convene to ultimately decide which candidate will fill the dean position. No timeline is available at this time as to when the final decision will be made.