Payne promises to bring creativity to dean job

Prof. Johnny Payne, new dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), on Aug. 25, 2011. Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star

Prof. Johnny Payne, new dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), on Aug. 25, 2011. Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Reporter
August 30, 2011

John Payne isn’t just ready for winter. He’s ready for the inevitable questions about whether he’s ready for winter.

“I lived in Chicago for seven years. I am not a weather wuss,” Payne said. “People in the university will see the dean cross-country skiing with ice in his eyebrows.”

Payne’s came to Alaska to run the University of Alaska — Fairbanks (UAF) College of Liberal Arts (CLA). He is replacing Burns Cooper, who served as CLA interim dean during the 2010 – 11 academic year.

In an Aug. 8 press release, Cooper described Payne as “a person of great energy and creativity, someone who’s not only run programs but brought them into being. I’m looking forward to seeing what new directions he’ll find for the college.”

Payne plans to bring two things to CLA: better advising and better marketing.

Payne has worked at similar schools with many first-generation students and low graduation rates. He wants to use this experience to tailor advising to students’ needs, he said.

He also wants to change the perception of CLA. “I don’t want this to be ‘the other college,’” Payne said.

Payne wants to raise awareness of professors who are experts in their fields, what he called “marketable prestige.”

Payne is particularly interested in the the Alaska Native language program. He comes from a bilingual education background, including spending time teaching in Peru. He founded a bilingual MFA program and a creative writing department while at his last job at the University of Texas El Paso.

“We recruited students from all over Latin America,” Payne said.

In addition to improving CLA’s image, Payne wants to “see a major investment in online education,” he said, though he wouldn’t micro-manage the curriculum.

“I have no intention of being an uber-chair,” Payne said. In fact, yet another goal of Payne’s is to grant faculty greater autonomy – that is, to decentralize curriculum management and place it in the hands of department chairs as much as possible.

The whole college, including students, will see change rolling in soon.

“I want students to be aware they’re going to be coming to a college that is entering a period of experimentation,” Payne said, “Don’t just come in with pre-set ideas of what your major’s going to be.”

Outside the university, Payne puts his creativity to use elsewhere.

“What I am by profession is a novelist, a playwright and an opera librettist,” he said. Payne, who received a doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford, currently works on three plays and authored several novels and operas. His latest novel, the first in a historical adventure trilogy set in 18th century Ireland, is set to come out next month. Payne’s creativity is a great asset, he said.

“Being a novelist and being a dean are two different types of creativity, but they’re both creativity.”

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