By Samantha Adams
Dr. Gene Fant began the semester in a newly created position that he says is part cheerleader, pushing Union’s faculty to greater achievements, and part “bulldog,” guarding against slippage in academic excellence.
Fant, former dean of Union’s College of Arts and Sciences, is now executive vice president for academic administration.
Together with the university’s deans and Provost Carla Sanderson, Fant directs academic programs, recruits and guides faculty and improves scholarship at Union, said Union President David S. Dockery.
“The investment by (the university’s) capable administrators in the lives of 240-plus Union faculty helps to create the context where the academic mission of Union University intersects with the lives and educational experiences of Union students each and every semester,” Dockery said.
The position is not completely new to Fant; it is an extension of the position he previously held as vice president for academic administration. Now, instead of working under Sanderson, Fant answers directly to Dockery.
“I’ve had the tremendous luxury of working with Carla Sanderson,” Fant said. “I got to learn (about academic administration) from the best person in the world at it.”
Serving as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences often created a to-do list that changed daily and ranged from new faculty searches to dealing with classrooms students had left messy. Without these responsibilities, Fant can focus more on long-term planning.
He enjoys the variety and the unusual problems he gets to help solve, like the recent project of deciding how to fill the empty space left when the university library collection moves from the Penick Academic Complex to its new location by Jennings Hall.
The move will create seven space dominoes, Fant said. Enrollment Services will be the first primary occupant of the vacated library space, he said.
“Dr. Gene Fant is one of the most gifted and insightful administrators with whom I have ever had the privilege of working,” Dockery said. “He has splendid people skills, he thinks strategically and he believes, without apology, in the distinctive mission of Union University. He writes and speaks well and has the respect of the faculty and staff.”
In the past year Fant worked on a number of writing projects, including “The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide.”
The book received excellent responses around the country and will be a text for the freshman Gateway course this fall. Gateway is designed to encourage new students to love learning, appreciate critical thinking and pursue knowledge during their time at Union.
Fant, who came to Union as an English professor, said he plans to take a short break from writing, but he hopes to continue to teach a few English classes in the future.
Dr. Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science, is the acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a role he was already familiar with because the administration had brought him on to assist Fant two years ago.
“He loves faculty and he loves puzzles, but he also is good with people,” Fant said of Baker. “He has tremendous insight.”
While the administration searches for a new dean, Dockery said Baker will provide oversight for faculty development and curriculum issues while keeping in mind broader institutional goals.