Q & A with Dean William Gaudelli

In late July, William Gaudelli, former chair of the department of arts and humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University, began his new role as dean of Lehigh’s College of Education. In a wide-ranging interview in his office in Iacocca Hall on the Mountaintop campus, Gaudelli talked about his priorities as dean and the challenges facing today’s educators and human service professionals.

Q: In shaping educators and human service professionals of the future, what is your vision for the College of Education?

I want to see the College come together and decide as a group what it wants to work on. We’re obviously going to be dedicated to serving professionals in their work and preparing them for the positions they will occupy. That’s always front and center in the College of Education, whether it’s in human services or education. It’s our core work.  In addition to that, it’s trying to think about new ways to engage people in learning that is timely, flexible and fluid, that responds to the needs that exist within professions. That’s obviously a very important piece of what we will be working on. But in terms of the particulars, I’m going to leave that to the faculty to co-construct.

We have ongoing commitments that we’ll honor in terms of working with young people who have autism. That’s crucial work. Special ed students in the Centennial School. Again, critical work…. Those commitments I want to honor and continue. 

While doing all this, we want to build a research profile—essentially to continue a robust research and grow new lines of research—and support the growth of the College in terms of the ability to contribute to research and raise the profile of the institution vis-a-vis research so that we become a go-to place for certain areas of knowledge. I want to continue to contribute in ways that are quite meaningful, like we have done in school psychology, like we have done in autism and special education and other fields, and increase our productivity and make it reach into new venues. That’s an important piece.

[Under Lehigh’s Path to Prominence initiative], I intend to grow the College, to grow the faculty lines as well and to expand the footprint of the College.

Q. What do you bring to the role of dean?

One of the parts of the vision I did not mention that connects to my own profile is global work. The global work is really important because it connects the Lehigh Valley with the wider world and demonstrates the ways in which the Lehigh Valley is already very much a part of the world. That kind of local-global connectivity is very important for me. It has always been a part of the work that I’ve done. Targeted outreach that’s strategic in areas around the world where we can really add value and places where we are already situated and where we have the potential to collaborate and work collegiately with professionals and other locals is incredibly important. It couldn’t be more important as far as I’m concerned.

One of the values of doing this work is that it gives you the opportunity to see how another person lives in their daily life and how someone who is a professional like you has different experiences and similar experiences in doing the work. I remember as a classroom teacher vividly when I exchanged with Russia, which had just become Russia. The Soviet Union had collapsed a year and a half prior to the exchange program. I spent a month in Russia in St. Petersburg. I was living with two teachers, a married couple, and I was going through the sort of daily routine of a teaching life there. It so impacted the way I thought about teaching and the way I thought about classrooms in the United States and my own classroom. And of course, we flipped the script, and he came and spent three weeks with us and that was very much the same for him. He had a similar experience. That kind of learning for professionals is invaluable, and it set me on a trajectory to really do this work in my own professional life and in my scholarship. I want to build that profile in the college as well.

Q: One of your areas of scholarly interest is global citizenship education. Why is that important, and does it transcend politics?

It’s crucially important. The world is learning to live together. That really was less significant under the nation-state system as compared to a global system, be it in finance, ecology or a range of issues. And when a networked society was birthed in the hyper-intense fashion in which it currently exists, of the past 30 to 40 years, it gives us both the capacity and the challenge to live together singularly…. It’s not a political manifestation as much as it is an ethical call for people to live together in a biosphere that is limited and in accord with other people.

I don’t know how we get to a place of global harmony such that sustainable human flourishing is shared by all. I don’t know what the policies are that make that a possibility, but it’s clear to me that it’s the highest priority question of the 21st century. And we’re either going to settle it in a way that is peaceful and reasonable or we are not. The “we’re not” part is very concerning obviously because of the damage that could be done on a planet that is armed with nuclear weapons, that has the capacity to change the environment and has been doing so. All of these are very serious problems.

The refugee crisis that the world is currently experiencing and will continue to experience and the lack of policy that undergirds that...are things affect us on a daily basis. So, we need to find solutions. Certainly, there’ll be political solutions, but we need to find ones that are consensus-oriented, that move the world forward. And certainly, we have a small part to play in that in the College of Education and I look forward to working with people in doing that type of work.

Q: What attracted you to Lehigh?

So many things. One is that the research profile is already robust and has a lot of potential to continue to grow. The size of the faculty is intimate enough that we can develop ideas and initiatives together. I’ve already seen here that there is a lot of goodwill and comradery among faculty and staff and students and a desire to bring someone in who has similar values and sees the value in relational work. Lehigh’s a place for people who want to collaborate to build new programs.

The other piece was the global orientation that the university has had for a long time. I was impressed by the conversations and the types of work that was going on here. And lastly, I taught not far away. I was in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and many of our best students went to Lehigh. So, it reminded me of the quality of the institution given that some of our best students chose Lehigh.

Q: In addition to research, what are your priorities?

Service to the community and engagement with the professional community in the area as well as alumni are very important priorities for the college generally. I’ve already had conversations with Joe Roy, who is our alum and who’s superintendent of schools in Bethlehem. We had a terrific lunch.... He left saying, “I’m so excited about what’s going to happen.” I was like, “I am too. Let’s get at it.”

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges to our country’s educational system?

To me, one of the primary challenges, and something that I hope that we continue to take up here, is the issue of equity in K-12 education and to ensure that every child has the best opportunity to grow their capacities in the context of school. That’s very important to address that both institutionally and through our research in programmatic work. That is front and center.

We have a vastly unequal school system. There are some 93,000 schools in the country, and they range in terms of quality across a wide continuum. That worries me, because that means, if you happen to be born into a geographic location through no fault of your own, you’re subject to an education that does not allow you to flourish. That is fundamentally unfair. The extent to which we can grow human services and education to support high-quality professionals engaged with every person in every context and circumstance is, to me, a very important contribution.

Obviously, the challenges of violence in schools is a grave concern. Immediately, I would say I root much of that in social and emotional well-being of young people, their sense of connectivity, their grounding and feeling of being part of a community. I would like to think that someone who feels relationally connected to the people with whom they spend their days are very unlikely to go pick up a weapon and begin shooting them. We have to address that root alienation problem that’s going on in schools. That’s obviously a big concern right now.

Bigger picture, going back to global citizenship, we’re not doing a good job in schools, generally, of preparing a group of young people who can step forward and become global leaders, and I think we need to do a lot more in that regard. So, that does not mean either/or in terms of learning about the United States or learning about the world, it means both/and. The proportionality of the United States in the world is not something we have done a good job historically in this country at teaching. And that’s a great concern because we have an outsized influence in terms of our economy, our military—our presence—in the world. And yet, we have a diminished sense of ourselves proportionally to the world. The U.S. should be leading in this regard.

Part of reaching out and beyond is to really grow that capacity with an education so that teachers and counselors and people who work in school psychology understand their role of raising a generation of globally interdependent people. That must be a priority. If we address the longer term situation of the world and recognize that we need to raise a generation that can live in a globally interconnected society, we will have achieved something important. We don’t yet know how to live in a global society. We’re learning that. And the College should contribute to this worthy aim.        
Q: Will COE be leading programming to address any of these issues?

I want this to germinate to some degree from faculty and from programs and from felt needs within. I’m certainly going to contribute to that as well as a faculty member. There may be programmatic initiatives. There may also be presentations and/or speakers to address those kind of things. In the end, it’s kind of the ground-level work that we do in building new programs and creating new opportunities that will invite those kinds of conversations.

Q: When you were hired, President John Simon was quoted as saying that you speak “with great passion about the ways in which education can prepare students for an increasingly complex and interdependent world and how universities can help chart a new direction for learning that is expansive and inclusive.” How can universities help chart that new direction?

We are attentive to the immediate community that surrounds us, and we are addressing the needs right here in Bethlehem. That’s very important and something that Joe Roy and I spoke about and something that will be a priority for the College, so that we can do outreach in the immediacy of this community and the Lehigh Valley as a whole.

Secondly, how can people have an experience at Lehigh or have a connection to Lehigh that does not necessarily entail them signing up for a graduate degree program? That’s another space to explore. So, we can offer lots of programming that can be short, one-off intensive experiences for learning so that the community reaches out and invites in rather than create a wall and say, “you have to get admitted as an undergraduate, freshman year.” That’s one path through, but there are other ways to think about the university as a kind of multispace that is really universal and connects with the community on multiple levels across the lifespan of learners.

That to me addresses equity because then you’re in Bethlehem, the footprint grows, and people have access to, let’s say, parenting courses that are available to them through the College of Education, where we bring some of the research and make it digestible for community members and then work with them and develop their parenting skills.Those are meaningful equitable contributions to the community. I don’t know exactly what the programs look like, but the principles are what’s important, what guides the work going forward.

Some of this work is already going on. Growing that venue is really important to the College, and also thinking about, how do we create possibility for students who might not otherwise see Lehigh as a possibility? That’s very important. Can we do a scholarship program for them? Can we provide support by keeping tuition low in the College of Education, for example? How do we make ourselves more accessible, because we live in a time where higher education is quite expensive. We have to work on that issue.

Q: How will the College of Education interact with Lehigh’s proposed College of Health?

There’s a lot in health care, nutrition and wellness that is educational. I don’t want to say in advance what we’re going to do. I don’t know. [Lehigh hasn’t] selected a dean yet. There’s a faculty to build. There’s a whole bunch of things to do, but I would love to see some collaboration with that college. I think that’s a great opportunity.

Everyone of us who has had a problem with health in our families has become a student of that area of health. So, how could the Colleges of Health and Education facilitate that process for people who are in need of it?

I remember when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I became a student of her form of cancer. You really don’t know what you’re doing and you’re sort of a novice to this discourse. You try to learn as much as you can. It is also very emotional. It taps into your concerns about the well-being of this person. It’s no longer an academic exercise, it’s personal.

So that to me would be a great potential avenue that we could contribute to, because it’s not just about the cognitive knowing of a disease, but it is also knowing about the social and emotional impact that it has on the individual as well as the people around them. So there’s a great possibility there.

Q: Can you talk about higher education in terms of the pursuit of truth in today’s society?

One of the things that the university is committed to is the diversity of discourse coupled with the pursuit of truth. Recognizing that dual role is a really important part of being a research institution, that we’re in the work of creating knowledge at a ground level for professionals, in our case in the College of Education.

At the same time, we have to be encountering different diverse points of view and being open to them and what can be learned from them. So, how do we get at veracity and recognize diversity when at times they don’t square? That’s a kind of problem to put before students, one certainly they are encountering if they are teaching a classroom or working at a school right now. That’s an important piece, although I cannot say I have a programmatic initiative. I would say it is kind of the deep structuring of what we are trying to do.

Q: We’ve talked about the College’s scholarship in autism research, special education, school psychology. Are there other areas in which you’d like to grow the College’s expertise?

Geospatial technology and climate change are rich venues. Broadly understood is the teaching of technology and multimedia as an instructional tool. That’s an important piece as well as school leadership. We have a lot to contribute there too in terms of understanding what it means to function well as an institution and how to lead those institutions. I would say every field has the capacity to do that, and we will look for new ones too where we can grow capacity.

Q: Have you identified areas of growth under Lehigh’s Path to Prominence initiative?

We’re still working on the concept notes but the idea of instructional design and curriculum design that is cutting edge and innovative is really a sweet spot for potential development offered. We would add to staff and leverage existing staff and faculty. Also, building on the idea of maker spaces and creating learning environments through maker space and oriented by a way of thinking about design application to pedagogy, to helping professions. That’s another possibility going forward. Continuing in the work of theory to practice and the center of translation of research and theory into practice is an important piece too. So, those are the kind of buckets that we are thinking about.


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