April 1, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 13

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    [janel mueller] by matthew gilsonJanel Mueller, the William Rainey Harper Professor in English Language & Literature, will succeed Dean Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music, as dean of the Division of the Humanities.

    Janel Mueller will succeed Dean Gossett

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    Janel Mueller, the William Rainey Harper Professor in English Language & Literature, will succeed Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music, as Dean of the Division of the Humanities. Mueller is the first woman named as a divisional dean in the University’s history.

    Gossett, a world-renowned expert on the operas of Rossini, will conclude his 10-year tenure as dean on June 30.

    To Mueller, who was the only female faculty member of the English Department during her first four years at the University, this transition is symbolic of a trend. Universities began hiring more female professors in the early 1970s. In following years, women became department chairs and now are becoming deans, she said.

    Mueller joined the University faculty in 1967. During the past three decades, she has served in an administrative capacity and on numerous committees, including the Council of the University Senate, the Governing Committee of the Humanities Collegiate Division and the Governing Board of the Chicago Humanities Institute. From 1975 to 1980, she was Chair of the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities.

    During the early 1980s, Mueller was Chair of the English Department, Chair of the Committee to Revise the Graduate Program, a member of the Presidential Commission on Alumni Affairs and a member of the Committee on Admissions and Enrollment in the College.

    As Chair of English, she centralized the department by coordinating the staff and making office space in Gates-Blake Hall available to faculty. “I think it helped to build a sense of community and solidarity,” she said of the consolidation.

    James Chandler, Professor in English Language & Literature, said, “I wasn’t sure that we’d find someone to attack this job with the level of seriousness and commitment that Phil Gossett brought to it these 10 years––let alone with the energy to make good on such a strong commitment, but we have.

    “Janel will bring tremendous energy and the highest of research standards to the job, and of course the knowledge of what it means to be a great teacher on both graduate and undergraduate levels,” said Chandler, who co-taught with Mueller.

    Richard Strier, Professor in English Language & Literature, also co-taught with the newly appointed dean. “I think she’s a model of someone who is both an absolutely first-rate research scholar and a devoted and enthusiastic undergraduate teacher,” said Strier.

    Mueller credited Gossett with putting the Humanities Division “on the city of Chicago map as well as nationally and internationally through alumni and professional contacts.”

    She called Gossett an energetic leader. “I am indeed very grateful for the Gossett legacy. He has been a magnificent captain at the helm,” she said. “It would be unforgivable on my part if I didn’t keep going the vitality he set in motion.”

    During her tenure, Mueller intends to encourage appreciation for the value of the humanities. “The role of the humanities is––along with social sciences––a kind of heartland of education, not only for our College students but also for the educated person no matter what degree he or she holds,” she said. She plans to sustain the outreach and the faculty research support of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, she said.

    One of her goals as dean will be to communicate the importance of studying the humanities, said Mueller. She sees an imperative to make connections between the humanities and the complex challenges of contemporary culture. For instance, “Nowadays, the great currency of English as the great global language leads people to ask, ‘Why study a foreign language?’ I think it would be a big mistake if native English-language speakers confine themselves to being monolingual,” she said.

    “What knowledges do the humanities produce and what are the benefits to society?” Answering her question, she said, “The human mind and spirit are stretched in crucial ways when we engage reflectively in the experience of fiction, poetry, and drama, of philosophical argument, of art and music, or the acquisition of another language.”