Maurer, new dean of Arts and Sciences, focused on helping students succeed
It all started in Spain in the late 1970s. The country had just gained autonomy and for the most part, people were excited to escape the grip of dictatorship.
Lynn Maurer, the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was just a sophomore in college studying Spanish, but seeing the formation of a democracy first hand led her to what would become her master’s and a doctorate in political science.
“I had not been very interested in American politics,” she said. “Francisco Franco had died just a few years before I got there, and there were people who still wanted the old dictatorship — they were still becoming democratic.
“Imagine that you were to land in the Constitutional Conventions in Philadelphia 200 years ago — the excitement. That’s what happened when I went to Spain. That was really my life-changing event.”
Maurer received her bachelor’s in Spanish with a minor in French from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, but she was enamored with politics in Europe, which was the focus of her research for both her master’s and doctorate, which she received from Ohio State University. She then went on to teach for 22 years in both America and Spain.
“I think teaching is the most academic thing you can do,” she said. “The last time I taught politics was Intro to American Politics, which I taught during the elections. It’s very important to me that students learn how to analyze politics and learn how to be political scientists instead of just giving political opinions.”
Maurer said that it’s important for students to know what they believe, but also why they believe it.
“I think what we all do, when we get to the college level if not before, is examine what we do believe and why we believe it and often take that opportunity to change our mind, instead of just saying something we’ve always believed,” she said.
Research has been a big part of Maurer’s career — she’s studied in Spain and France, analyzing their political systems, but has also dedicated her time to women in politics and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. She was even a co-investigator for the National Science Foundation ADVANCE IT-Catalyst Award, which studies and promotes the advancement of women faculty in STEM fields.
“Sometimes there’s so few women in the STEM areas, it’s hard to study them or help out,” she said. “But that’s where I think we need to make an effort to help women succeed in those areas. I’ve been visiting all of the departments (in arts and sciences), and I visited the chemistry department recently and it was very diverse — there were a lot of women.
“Lamar is pretty strong in the area of female representation in STEM fields. Computer science, in general, is the least represented by women but it’s pretty strong here in terms of the faculty. So now we need to get that through to the students and make sure that the climate around them is conducive to their learning.”
In the current election cycle in the United States, more women are running for office than ever before, with many women winning in primary elections. Maurer said that while there has been a recent push to elect more women to office, the change is slow and that it will take a long time to reach equity at the rate it is now.
“One thing I’m very interested in is that, for some reason, in parliamentary systems, it’s easier for women to get elected because they work up through their party, whereas in the presidential system, for some reason, just the system itself favors incumbency,” she said. “So, the people who have been there tend to stay there.
“I think what’s really been the success (is) more women being encouraged to get into office now. There’s a lot of support for it and I don’t think that will go backwards. I don’t think people will suddenly not want women to run for office, so we could have a big leap with that in both parties.”
Maurer taught and served as an associate dean at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Ill., for 18 years, and then became the dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies and Chief Research Officer at Indiana State University in 2014, where she stayed until July. Maurer said she was drawn to Lamar for several reasons and that it felt like home.
“I really wanted to be a dean of arts and sciences, and to work very closely, not only with the students, but with the faculty,” she said. “There’s also a lot of diversity here, and I very much like inclusive excellence and I believe very strongly in it. I’m from the Midwest, so we have quite a bit of diversity.”
Maurer said she has always been at doctoral research institutions around Lamar’s size.
“Research is important, and teaching is important — this is my type of university,” she said. “This is what feels right to me. I love Lamar’s mission to do whatever we can to help students succeed, not only with the ability to study theoretically, but right into the workplace — the region around here is just rich with opportunities.”
Maurer said her biggest goal is to improve student and faculty success and retention.
“I think the most important thing right now is making sure students make it to graduation,” she said. “That means serving them in between being accepted and graduating. That means addressing students who are at risk, students who are doing well — anything we can do to ensure success and, eventually, completion. We also have graduate programs, so, it’s very important to help people get through that as well.
“I was recently talking to a student who had two jobs in addition to going to school full-time. It’s important that we understand our students and their challenges, whether they be money, time or whatever else.”
Maurer said she understands the struggle students have in paying for college, and that the solution lies within the entire school community.
“When I talk about student success, I can help in terms of academics and helping at risk students, but we have to tie that right into financial aid as well,” she said. “I am very concerned about the student debt. We need to advocate for our students and for ways to get them through college that are a little less costly and don’t leave so much debt afterwards.”
Ten years from now, Maurer said she hopes the College of Arts and Sciences is as it is now, but more dynamic and innovative, and a place that provides support to its students and faculty no matter the circumstances.
“We need to move ahead — whether the budget is good or bad — with our commitment to our students and our research and our teaching,” she said. “Why is there a College of Arts and Sciences? What are we doing together? I talked to the faculty in my convocation about that notion. We teach 90 percent of the core curriculum on campus, and because of that, I think our graduates are going to be well-rounded. The college is excited to work and function together.”
Maurer has high ambitions and said that she’s excited about the new semester, but above all, she’s excited to be a part of a new community.
“This area is amazing,” she said. “The spirit of the community that I felt when I came here in October for my interview influenced me — I knew this is where I wanted to be. My interview was postponed because of Harvey, but when I did interview with President Evans, I could see that he was compassionate about this campus and its students. I was struck by the caring administration and how the whole area helped each other out.”
Maurer said she lives her life by a quote from Slavenka Drakulić, “Democracy without women is no democracy.”
“When it comes to inclusive excellence and including women or minorities, or even different cultures, viewpoints and disciplines, just like that quote, I think it should be present always and something we think of in every decision that we make,” she said.
“Inclusive excellence isn’t just something that needs to be important to our diversity office, it needs to be in every department and in every college, and every decision I make here.”
For more information, visit http://www.lamar.edu/arts-sciences.
Story by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor