Interim Dean Terry Rhodes is learning and listening

Rhodes recently spoke with The Well about some of her initiatives, the new general education curriculum and making time for singing.

Terry Rhodes
Terry Rhodes(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Terry Rhodes was appointed interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences on Feb. 26 after serving as the senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the College since summer of 2012.

Rhodes enrolled at Carolina in 1974 with scholarships in both piano and voice, but quickly gravitated to voice once she discovered opera. She went on to pursue a career in classical music after earning her master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. In June 1987, Rhodes was offered a one-year position as a visiting assistant professor in Carolina’s music department. She remained in the department for 25 years, including the last three as chair, before leaving for South Building in summer of 2012 as the College’s senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities.

Rhodes says her experience as senior associate dean helped prepare her for the dean’s role, as did her musical training. “It has become clear to me that to be an effective leader collaboration is critical and that’s what I’ve been doing as a musician,” she said. “It’s all about working together to achieve a final product.”

Rhodes recently spoke with The Well about some of her initiatives, the new general education curriculum and making time for singing.

How have your deep ties at Carolina helped you do this job?

I am now in my ninth (as of Oct. 26!) month as dean, but I have served on the dean’s leadership team for eight years. Those years of experience helped prepare me for this position, but this is a huge organization. I went from having 22 departments and units in my portfolio to now having about 75. Every day I am learning, as well as listening.

Are you the first faculty member from the fine arts to be named dean of the College of Arts & Sciences?

I am the first member from the fine arts to be named dean of the College since it took its modern-day name in 1935. The arts are such a powerful engine for learning, and in this role, I intend to do as much as I can to make sure they remain an integral part of the student experience in and out of the classroom.

How much progress has been made with the IDEAs in Action curriculum since Faculty Council approved it April 12?

We are in the implementation process, now developing and piloting, new courses, as well as enhancing ones that have been on the books. The new curriculum will likely officially start in fall of 2021. It represents some major changes in pedagogical thinking. We now have information at our fingertips, and thus need to make sure that our students, once they find the facts, know how to connect the dots to then make hypotheses and to form ideas. Before they leave Carolina, we want to make sure they have the capacity to think critically, communicate effectively and listen to others.

How did “Reckoning Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University,” the shared learning initiative that launched this fall, come about?

The genesis was last year when faculty and students came together in response to much of the turmoil that was going on, particularly with regard to the Confederate Monument. We knew we needed to more fully reckon with our past. We had been working on these issues, but it felt as if we needed to integrate the work into the curriculum in a larger way to make sure that our students were understanding the history of this institution. This shared learning initiative has 18 courses this fall, with expansion into the spring. We have over 800 students taking these classes now, with shared readings, projects and events.

You sent a message to College faculty last month asking for their ideas for developing the Program for Public Discourse. Why do you think this program is important?

I see this as an initiative that connects with a number of new initiatives we have begun, including the Reckoning and others we have not talked about in this interview like Countering Hate, Southern Futures and Critical Ethnic Studies. They will augment and enhance each other. Even though the idea for the program in public discourse may have started out “from the top,” we always intended for this to be a faculty-driven initiative, and in fact, that is how it has evolved. What our students need, and I think what we as a society need, is the ability to engage in difficult conversations that go beyond offering just opinions or feelings. We need intellectually framed discourse. And it isn’t always about debating from the standpoint of left or right, Democrat or Republican. There are often multiple ways to think about some of these challenging questions, and that is what this program will seek to do. I have been holding roundtable discussions in smaller groups so that any faculty member in the College can talk with me about it and share their ideas.

Have you felt in any way constrained serving as an interim dean?

Not at all. I love what I’m doing and have been able to continue to move the College forward. And if you think about it, all of these leadership positions are temporary – so the challenge for all of us is to do as much good as you can with the time you have. From my very first day, I have had a green light to work for positive change, and that’s what I have been trying to do.

In addition to your work as interim dean, you are also a well-known opera singer who has performed in 20 countries. Do you still find time to sing?

Yes, it still gives me great joy. I’ve recently sung in London and in Italy and will be singing on a UNC faculty recital in November. I also had the pleasure of singing the national anthem in duet with my daughter Susannah at the men’s basketball game with Davidson last December – that was a real delight!

Post by Gary Moss, The Well.