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Benjamin Withers leaves CSU after 8 years as CLA dean

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Photo courtesy of Colorado State University

Colorado State University is saying farewell this month to Benjamin Withers, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

After eight years in the position, Withers has decided to begin a new chapter of his career. He is leaving CSU this month to pursue a position at Iowa State University as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His final day was Friday, Feb. 16.

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“At certain points in your career, you get to the place where you think that you’re ready for the next challenge,” Withers said. “Looking at Iowa State, I’ll be moving to a college that’s twice the size of (the CSU) CLA that includes the sciences in addition to the humanities and social sciences and performing arts, so it gives me an opportunity to learn more about those areas.”

Throughout his time at CSU, Withers has led many initiatives to improve not only the College of Liberal Arts but CSU as a whole, his most significant one being the revitalization of the Andrew G. Clark Building.

“I loved my time here. It’s very difficult to leave CSU because of the people, because of the environment, because of the trajectory that I think that the university and this college is on. … I just want people to know how special the place is and continue to work on making it even more special in the future.” –Benjamin Withers, former College of Liberal Arts dean

“The fact that several years ago we made Clark the No. 1 priority on campus and that the CSU system made it their No. 1 priority and we were able to achieve state funding for it is certainly a remarkable accomplishment,” Withers said.

In addition to the revitalization of Clark, Withers has been instrumental in improving the programs within the College of Liberal Arts.

“We’ve been able to hire many new faculty in the CLA, people who come in with expertise that have been excited, (and) I’ve been excited to see them develop,” Withers said. “Because of the new faculty and the tremendous faculty we’ve had here before, we’ve tripled our research funding, so that’s allowed us for the first time to go over $5 million in external research programs.”

Withers also took part in organizing the thematic Year of Democracy and said he believes President Amy Parsons will take it even further to benefit the university.

“I still think that there’s work to be done on the democracy side,” Withers said. “I think there (are) opportunities for us to continue our discussions about academic freedom and the necessity in our classrooms to have conversations about difficult topics so that students can expect that to happen and the faculty know that we have their back when those things occur too.”

More specifically, Withers said he believes CSU should look at altering the curriculum offered to be more inclusive of the democracy theme.

“There’s room for us to look at our curriculum to make sure that the curriculum that we offer in history, political science, ethnic studies (and) various different departments are rich and robust when it comes to things connected to democracy,” Withers said. “How can we prepare individuals through their courses to be ready to go out and be productive and engaged citizens once they leave CSU?”

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Although there is still work to be done, Withers remained positive while reflecting on his time at CSU.

“I loved my time here,” Withers said. “It’s very difficult to leave CSU because of the people, because of the environment, because of the trajectory that I think that the university and this college is on. … I just want people to know how special the place is and continue to work on making it even more special in the future.”

Economics Professor Elissa Braunstein, who has been at CSU since 2005, will be interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts following Withers’ departure.

Braunstein has made it a goal to continue to work on the theme of democracy and make improvements as necessary.

“Dean Withers has done a tremendous job over the time that he’s been with us,” Braunstein said. “A key focus for me will be to maintain all of that good work to keep it going until we hire a new dean.”

During her time as interim dean, Braunstein has initiatives of her own that she hopes to implement to improve the college.

“Because I’ve been the associate dean for research, facilitating and supporting research efforts not only among faculty but also students is something that I’ll be bringing into my time as interim dean and really focusing on sort of supporting academic excellence,” Braunstein said.

A search committee has been put together to find a new dean for the College of Liberal Arts, and they are aiming for complete transparency and diversity among candidates.

The committee wants to have finalists visit campus during the last few weeks of this semester to allow students and staff to provide their input and have a say in the process.

“It’s an exciting time for the liberal arts, critical dialogue and interdisciplinary efforts to address pressing problems,” said Karen Estlund, the dean of the CSU libraries and chair of the search committee. “The search committee is intelligent, creative and enthusiastic, and I’m confident they will help us recruit and identify the best candidates.”

Reach Laila Shekarchian at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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