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Photo of the Purdue drum statue.

Office of the Dean

May 2023

Dear Colleagues,

As we reach the end of another academic year, my thoughts are on what seemed to be the overriding topic of this year – artificial intelligence – and its implications for the years ahead. I say that not because of our new major in AI, which is in our Department of Philosophy, or even the important faculty hiring we have done in this area across the Departments of History, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, and the School of Languages and Cultures. Rather, it has been the story of the year both on campus and off. In a contest of column inches for 2023, my sense is that AI comes out on top.

Increasingly, AI has crept into many aspects of our lives every day. And as spring semester began, the conversation reached a high pitch in both mainstream and higher education media following the release of ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot with its ability to generate text, including essays and other writing assignments, at the core of many of our classes. The Deans of Liberal Arts and Sciences across the Big10, a group I now chair as the most senior dean, sprang into action, forming a working group of experts from across our institutions to help us think through its implications for our respective colleges and our universities.

As I began to consider this message, I decided to first give the assignment to ChatGPT to see what it would write. To clarify, what you are reading now is not that message. (You can read the ChatGPT version here.) While grammatically correct, I found the ChatGPT-created letter to be flat, inauthentic, and – if you will allow me one pun – artificial. Putting aside the many factual errors and made-up facts one frequently finds in these tools (and I trust our engineering and computer science colleagues will eventually fix these glitches), its writing is the product of an algorithm complete with all that enables and all of its limitations. While for some there is fear about what this and other AI will bring, let us continue to remember that AI is a tool which – like many technologies across human history – will be harnessed in ways that will help humanity continue its advancement in important and meaningful ways. Nevertheless, the rapid evolution of this new AI tool is a reminder of how fundamental and irreplaceable written communication is within the context of what it means to be educated. The message generated by the chatbot was not reflective, it was not thoughtful, it was not original, it was not smart.

I believe to write is to think.

Writing is the manifestation of many things: how our brains synthesize information, consider data, question inferences, create stories, and engage readers. Writing remains a primary mode of communication and the basis upon which we assess intellectual ability. Even more, it is the basis for how we advance our beliefs, values, and ideas.

For many parts of the College of Liberal Arts on the West Lafayette campus and within our peer institutions, writing is foundational to our mission of teaching and research. Written communication is the common ingredient which binds together the concept of general education across much of higher education. It is the primary reason why all students at Purdue University take classes in the College of Liberal Arts and an increasing number enroll in our first-year Great Books classes on their way to a Cornerstone Certificate in Integrated Liberal Arts. It is among our most important contributions to making Purdue a great comprehensive university whose alumni are prepared to be well-rounded leaders and responsible citizens.

And with that, let me turn to the topic of our faculty. I am pleased that eleven faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts have been promoted this year. New full professors are Elizabeth Hoffmann (Sociology), Seungyoon Lee (Brian Lamb School of Communication), Daniel J. Olson (Languages & Cultures), and Christine Wuenschel (Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance). Newly-tenured associate professors are Hyungjoo Kim (Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance), Stacy M. Lindshield (Anthropology), Erin Moodie (Languages & Cultures), Erik Otarola-Castillo (Anthropology), Swati Srivastava (Political Science), Logan Strother (Political Science) and Amanda Veile (Anthropology). Please read their professional bios here and join me in congratulating our colleagues on their accomplishments.

Research excellence among our colleagues includes the following grants: Brian Kelly, Professor of Sociology – NIH - Effects of Tobacco & ENDS Policies on Patterns of Adolescent ENDS Use ($1,000,000); Tara Grillos, Associate Professor of Policial Science – NSF - Collaborative Research: Collective decision making & local public good provision: Experimental evidence from Kenyan villages ($564,000); Rayvon Fouche, Professor of American Studies – Mellon Foundation - $450,000 - DISCO Digital Inquiry, Speculation, Collaboration, & Optimism Network ($450,000); and Lori Czerwionka, Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics - NEH Humanities Connections Implementation Grant ($150,000).

Excellence in undergraduate teaching continues to be a hallmark of our College, and our streak of recipients from the University’s Charles B. Murphy Awards program continues. This year, Assistant Professor of Political Science Swati Srivastava received the Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award.

Among our college community, I was excited last week to see Rueff School alumnus Stephen McKinley Henderson (M.A. ’77) nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play for his performance in “Between Riverside and Crazy.” Our students have had exceptional accomplishments, too. English major Arden Woodall was Purdue’s first Beinecke Scholar this spring. Political Science major Charlotte Yeung was named a Frederick Douglass Fellow. I encourage you to read the stories of these young scholars from the College.

Our second consecutive year of robust faculty hiring continues with 31 accepted offers to date. This cohort of scholars will significantly expand our capabilities across the field of artificial intelligence broadly. It includes faculty from Languages and Cultures and Philosophy joining last year’s new hires who also represent History and Political Science. We have made important progress in building out our emerging research area in sociogenomics with key hires in Sociology and History as well.

This summer, work will commence on the $46.6M space project that includes initial work in Beering and Stanley Coulter halls. The

scope of this project means that over the course of the next two years, most of us in the College will experience some disruption to our routines. In advance, thank you for your patience as we elevate the quality of space across the College.

Also this summer, work will begin to renovate space in Purdue Memorial Union to exhibit the collection of Degas sculptures given to Purdue earlier this year by alumnus Avrum Gray. We anticipate an opening reception in early 2024. Until then, I invite you to watch the preview of an in-progress video that will explore the importance of this gift and the arts broadly at Purdue. This collection will be a crown jewel of our campus.

We will say farewell this year to a group of faculty who served for decades and contributed to the College in important ways. They are: Arthur G. Hansen Distinguished Professor of Philosophy William McBride and Distinguished Professor of English Victor Raskin, well as Professors Robin Clair (Communication), Daniel V.A. Olson (Sociology), and Marcia Stephenson (Languages and Cultures). Please join me in thanking our colleagues for their service to Purdue and to the College.

As I look back through my earlier messages this academic year, I am reminded of how much we have accomplished, both this year and since 2015. I will not enumerate all we have achieved here. I am mindful of the many headwinds our disciplines face, and I am grateful for the talent, hard work, and commitment each member of our community has contributed to this College. Together, we continue to emerge as a leader in innovative liberal arts education and scholarship. I wish each of you a productive and restorative summer.


David Reingold

David A. Reingold
Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal Arts