| by Jason Warburg
On July 1, longtime Institute faculty members Laura Burian MATI ’98 and Fernando DePaolis became, respectively, dean of the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education (GSTILE) and dean of the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSIPM). Our wide-ranging conversation dug into the myriad issues the new deans are facing.
What one story from your past tells people everything they need to know about your approach to serving as dean?
DePaolis: I was very unhappy with the strategic planning process that happened here in 2006 and actually left for a year. After I came back, at the first meeting of the Academic Excellence Task Force, with 10 people around the table, we were asked, “What do you want to get out of this thing?” I went last and said, “What I want to do is to bury that terrible strategic plan so that we can do something else.” There was a moment of silence and the temperature in the room went down about 25 degrees. Everybody looked at me, and I said, “What? I didn’t think we wanted to BS each other.” I’m going to be absolutely transparent about my ideas and my convictions. That approach is not always great for diplomacy, but it gives people confidence that you’re not going to hide things from them.
Burian: What I hope my past as Faculty Senate president and a professional interpreter says about my priorities in my new role is that I will try to ensure that administration and faculty are really hearing what the other is saying. My hope is that we can cut through the static and get to the heart of issues in order to help us be a team and a community that engages with one other and works together shaping the future.
What’s your favorite thing about working at the Institute?
Burian: That we have faculty, students, and staff who are doing remarkable things, and who have their eyes on continuing to make a contribution that is bigger than themselves. I’ve been student, faculty, and staff myself now, so it’s been my professional home for over two decades. It’s a group of amazing people.
DePaolis: For me, it’s understanding that the students come here to get better at what they do, or to learn a craft that they feel passionate about. I’ve taught in more academically oriented, less purpose-driven places, and it was different. Here, our students will go on to do extraordinary things for others. And I get to work with my friends.
What was the biggest factor in your decision to accept the job of dean?
DePaolis: [pointing at Laura] Her. [laughter] We’ve been on committees together and know each other well and can work very well together. And she is really good at keeping me in check. Sometimes when we’re in private, she’ll say, “Are you sure you want to say that?” [laughter] or “Now that you’ve said that, how are you going to answer these three questions?” It’s a tremendous reality check for me and gives me confidence.
Burian: For me, I had been serving as a liaison between the administration and the search committees, and I saw the effort that went into trying to find the right fit for these positions. It was clear that it was going to be a steep learning curve for anyone, but perhaps not as steep for me, given my previous roles. My attitude about the searches was, let’s take some of the energy and momentum and ideas and move forward with what we learned.
DePaolis: I really cannot imagine a new person from the outside plunged into some of the issues we’re facing. They would be flying blind. I’m sorry for my colleagues that they ended up with me, but it’s like the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but you might get what you need.” [laughter]
What do you expect to be the most challenging part of your new role?
DePaolis: How do we position the Institute for the real challenges that we’re going to be facing three to five years from now? How do we take all the right steps so that, three deans into the future, there is a clear path to ensure the intellectual and financial vitality of the Institute?
Burian: In addition to the workforce planning exercise we’re going through right now, I think there’s a real challenge with enrollment in light of the headwinds that graduate education is facing. We need to position ourselves to expand the type of people we can serve, meaning not just traditional residential MA students, and not just full-time students. We have to look at our pricing vis-à-vis the student debt that people are taking on, and length of time to degree, and modes of delivery—it’s all intertwined. We’re training our students to do very specific work, but the job market is such that they also have to be very flexible. They don’t go into “a job” or “a career” necessarily, they go into multiple jobs and multiple careers.
DePaolis: That also means the return on investment today is a heck of a lot more uncertain—not just for our students, but throughout the entire education system. We need to move decisively to make hard choices and live with them.
Imagine it’s years from now and you’re looking back on your tenure as dean. What does success look like to you?
Burian: That we successfully expanded our audiences and offerings. That we placed bets in the right places so that we could be an institution that continued to offer excellent, high-quality education while opening up that education to more people—
DePaolis: Elite education, but not just for elites.
Burian: Exactly. Right now we only at.tract students who can take a year or two out of their lives to come here. I hope we’ll be able to say that we made changes that helped this institution adapt to the new reality.
DePaolis: I hope people say that we made difficult decisions that had to be made for the institution, and for the ultimate goal of serving an audience of professionals who want to make a significant change in the quality of life of millions of people.