Anthropologist settles into new role as dean of faculty at Connecticut College
New London — Jeffrey Cole has transitioned from studying Sicilian views on immigration to studying food and agriculture to studying the needs of fellow faculty at Connecticut College.
His most recent role may not be anthropological in nature, as were the others, but he still finds the background informative to his current work.
"One of the things that cultural anthropologists do is they listen carefully, and they take seriously what they hear," Cole said.
He paused, a reflection of his deliberate manner of speaking. "I mean, after all, that's really our job, to understand people's lived experience, their sense of their situation."
Cole was appointed dean of the faculty at Connecticut College, where he is starting his 11th year, effective July 1. Dean of the faculty is the highest-ranking officer after the college president.
Cole, 59, had served as associate dean of the faculty since January 2015. The dean he is replacing is Abigail Van Slyck, who is now on sabbatical and returning to her roots researching architectural history.
He sat down with The Day for an hour recently to talk about how he got to this spot and his outlook for the role.
Cole said he has three overarching priorities for his time as dean: enhancing support for faculty, providing training to faculty leaders and enhancing curriculum.
He said enhancing faculty supports can mean making sure Connecticut College has the necessary classrooms, lab spaces and facilities, or reallocating resources more equitably.
As for those who chair the four-dozen departments, programs and centers, Cole said, "I think we can do a better job clarifying what we expect them to do in that role, and we can do a better job providing the kinds of training and support that will allow them to flourish in those roles."
He noted that experience from a Ph.D. or MFA may not always translate to leading colleagues.
Regarding curriculum, he has an eye on planning for the future so that curriculum "at once kind of changes the times and changes with the times."
One concern among students is faculty diversity. Cole said Connecticut College has made great strides in the past decade but aims to do better, and that increasing faculty diversity is an institutional priority at multiple levels.
According to data from the college, 26.4 percent of the 182 full-time faculty members at the college are nonwhite, as of the fall of 2017.
Cole works with John McKnight, dean of institutional equity and inclusion, and he expects the college to be "welcoming an ever-more diverse faculty" at the end of this year or beginning of next.
Cole said the college will have more than a dozen tenure-track searches this year.
The college said in a statement, in part, "The administration regularly undertakes efforts to evaluate operating expenses to support the College's highest priorities. Recent efforts have included reorganizing a number of administrative offices while also developing new areas for revenue growth."
A varied background in anthropology
Originally from Oregon, Cole holds a bachelor's degree in French from Portland State University and a Ph.D. in anthropology from City University of New York.
He lights up when he talks about his background in anthropology, which he defines as "the holistic and comparative description and analysis of the human condition around the globe, then and now."
In 1990, he settled with his wife and baby in a poor neighborhood in Palermo, a city in Sicily, determined to find how residents felt about the increase in international immigration.
Before coming to Connecticut College, Cole spent nearly 15 years at the now-defunct Dowling College. He taught a minimum of eight classes per year and found there were "virtually no resources" to dedicate to how professors "think about the most effective pedagogy, the most effective way to teach."
That made coming to Connecticut College, where he served as chair of the department of anthropology from 2008 to 2014, a welcome change. Here, his focus has shifted from immigration to food and agriculture.
In a course called Cultivating Change, offered in the fall of 2012 and 2013, students helped Cole with research on beginning farmers in New London County.
A highlight from his time teaching was developing a course called Food and Migration, which involved a five-day trip to New York. Cole took students to a slaughterhouse in Queens, chef Marcus Samuelsson's Harlem restaurant Red Rooster, the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, city hall to learn more about the Greenmarket program, and the Tenement Museum, where students had a historic tasting menu.
Cole also serves on the board of directors of Land for Good, a nonprofit with a mission to "ensure the future of farming in New England." He previously served as president of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, which is part of the American Anthropological Association.