Vincent Wei-Cheng Wang joined Ithaca College last summer after having served as associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and on the faculty of the Department of Political Science, at the University of Richmond. Born in Taiwan, Wang focuses his scholarly research on Chinese and Taiwanese foreign policy and domestic politics, security, economic development, and Asian international relations.
How have you spent your first six months here?
The first semester [in a new position] is always challenging, because it is a time for discovery. I am taking a three-step approach. First, I try to observe how things are done. Second, I try to understand why they are done this way. Some seem to have very good reasons, and some don’t seem to have very good reasons, other than the fact that they have been done this way all along. I’m still in the first two stages, and maybe after this first year I will move to the third stage, which is, how can I improve the process?
To try to understand the School of Humanities and Sciences as quickly as possible, last summer I had office hours where anyone could come in. Once the semester started, I held 10 dean’s coffee hours, and I have been visiting with every department in the school. By the end of this semester I will have visited 18 of the 23 departments. Most departments told me that no previous H&S deans had visited them and they appreciated my reaching out.
What gets you most excited about coming to the office every day?
I come to the office thinking that I would like to make some small differences; to make the lives of our faculty, students and the community in general, better. This is my motivation. In fact, the reason I accepted this job was, when I was interviewed [in December of 2015], I met with more than 100 people, and towards the end of a very long, eventful day of interviews — and that’s when students were occupying the administration building — there was a moment of reckoning that dawned on me: that I have been an associate dean for four years, and I’ve learned a lot about campus administration, and I have enjoyed a stable and established life as a teacher-scholar, but if I should get this job at such a challenging time, I will have an opportunity to be in a position to make some decisions, to implement some initiatives, to try some ideas that will affect more lives. So I was certainly very happy to receive the job offer, and I approach every day thinking back to the original reason that brought me here.
What accomplishments are you most proud of so far?
The School of Humanities and Sciences has a long tradition of promoting student research. In the past, the emphasis was primarily in the so-called STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math. A couple of years ago the H&S Summer Scholars program was started to provide faculty-mentored research opportunities in other fields, such as the creative arts, humanities and social sciences. One of the first things I did was to expand this program by 33%, because I want to encourage students in those fields to imagine that research is not only possible, it is desirable, to add value to their education. I’m also looking into the possibility of a pilot program in summer housing, so these students don’t need to look for housing sublets in town, but can stay on campus so as to foster a continual research community.
I have worked with the H&S Faculty Senate and department chairs to establish a faculty search protocol which has created a better division of labor among the departments, the dean and the provost’s office. Previously the dean played a small role, but faculty searches are among the most important things that a school can do. We have to change the diversity of our faculty one hire at a time, so I take a personal interest in this. I have also created a Dean’s Advisory Council to increase transparency and encourage more faculty involvement in governance. The DAC will advise me on resource allocation within H&S and help train faculty leaders.
How does the school of H&S serve rest of the college while also being its own school?
We offer 55 majors ourselves, but we also consider the school as the liberal arts core of a comprehensive college. I work with the other four deans and promote the idea that even students who come to Ithaca wanting to study in a professional field should have a grounding in the liberal arts. This dual nature does affect how we deliver our courses, our academic programs, and so on. I hope that we can continue working on building bridges across schools so that we can conceptualize the student experience at Ithaca College as one that is holistic rather than five separate schools. I would like to contribute my part in a conversation with the next president to ensure that students get an educational experience that draws on the strengths of all five schools and breaks down the barriers.
Have you had the opportunity to get out and get to know the Ithaca community?
Ithaca is a beautiful place. Every weekend when I have time to get away from the office I try to spend time with my family exploring the area—going to the state parks, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Lab of Ornithology, or just discovering a new Chinese restaurant. Another way that I am exploring Ithaca is that I take the bus to work. I have met a lot of people and struck up a lot of conversations. When we bought our house, we didn’t realize it was so close to the bus line. I hadn’t used public transportation to and from work in almost 30 years, so this was a pleasant surprise.
What would you like members of the IC community to know about you that might surprise them?
When I was a child I played Little League baseball in Taiwan, and years later a team from my elementary school went to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. The community may be surprised to find that I am a longtime Chicago Cubs fan. I was a graduate student in Chicago, and my two older children were born in that city, so I got used to the “wait until next year” mantra. This year I was most excited, and I watched game seven of the World Series through the rain delay and extra innings, and it was very fulfilling and exciting to see baseball at its best. I’m just glad that in my lifetime I got to see my “lovable losers” win it all.