Neil Weissman to Step Down as Provost

Neil Weissman, Provost and Dean of Dickinson College will be stepping down from his leadership positions at the end of the academic year. Weissman has been the longest-serving provost in Dickinson’s history, serving since 2002, and has served as dean since 1998. He has also worked as a professor at Dickinson since 1975 and served as interim president during the 2016-17 academic year.

As for why he has stayed at Dickinson for so long, Weissman said  that the college’s mission resonated with him, which includes a “first class, highly personalized education in the liberal arts.” He believes that the definition of liberal arts has changed, and it “[moved] away from content, from the notion that there is certain material that you really have to know to be liberally educated, to capabilities or skills, things like critical thinking, creativity, writing, and so on.”

Previously, the school focused more on balance, where students needed three lab sciences, three humanities, and three social sciences to graduate, which Weissman said was “restrictive for students,” as opposed to the structure these requirements are today. During the presidency of William Durden ’71, this changed, and added more requirements to reflect more so on points of excellence. This included more coursework for students in their specific field for students and being able to experience where the school leads, such as sustainability and global education.

Weissman said the increasing diversity of the student population during his time at Dickinson has also been a highlight. While we “still have a ways to go on inclusivity… it’s really transformative,” as Dickinson was a mostly white school with few international students when he began teaching. In terms of international students, Weissman said “now the percentage is much, much higher, and hopefully growing,” and the college’s connection with the wider world has been “the most exciting thing.”

During his time as provost, the idea of connecting to the wider world led to the creation of new majors, such as Africana Studies and Neuroscience. It also led to the creation of Dickinson abroad programs that Weissman helped initiate, including in Spain, China and Cameroon. These programs came about after two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, including the largest ever given to a liberal arts college up to that point. 

There have been significant changes to the way faculty work during Provost Weissman’s tenure. Student-faculty ratio decreased from 12:1 to 9:1, allowing for lighter classes for professors and more personal experiences for students. The sabbatical period also decreased from seven years to six. Classes were more lecture-based when he started, whereas as now Weissman feels “the way classrooms operate now is far more interactive than it used to be… and it’s been fun to help with that transformation.”

College provosts do not often serve as long as Weissman has, but he credits the length of his tenure to the abilities and creativity of the community and faculty. While it is never easy to make significant changes, it has been “easy, comparatively,” to do these changes with the creative ideas and energy of the faculty. He said he has to facilitate ideas, but “it is fun to watch [the faculty] go” with the unique ideas they have.

In the announcement that Weissman was stepping down, President John E. Jones III ’77 said “Neil is not only a good friend, but he has been of immeasurable help during the formative beginning of my presidency. The wise counsel and broad institutional knowledge he imparted have assisted me in myriad ways.”