Art history chairman named dean at JHU Faculty veteran Kessler to head arts and sciences


The longtime chairman of art history has been appointed dean of arts and sciences at the Johns Hopkins University, assuming leadership of a school that has been troubled by the defection of distinguished faculty members.

Herbert L. Kessler, the Charlotte Bloomberg professor of art history, was approved as dean of the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences during a telephone conference yesterday of the executive committee of the university's board of trustees.

Kessler is the second new dean announced this week. Hopkins' board, meeting in New York on Sunday, approved hiring Ilene Busch-Vishniac, a University of Texas mechanical engineering professor, to run the Whiting School of Engineering.

Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman, said President William R. Brody had not recommended Kessler's appointment to the board Sunday because it had not been finalized.

Kessler, 56, is a specialist in medieval, Jewish and Byzantine art. He has been chairman of Hopkins' art history department for all but two of his 22 years on the faculty.

He takes over Hopkins' oldest school, with 260 full-time faculty, 2,600 undergraduate students and more than 1,800 full- and part-time graduate students.

It has been without a full-time dean since January 1996, when Steven Knapp was promoted to provost, the university's top academic post. The school has since been run by interim deans. Kessler said the school has lacked stability in its leadership for about six years because Knapp served as dean a short time before his promotion.

Considered the core of the university, the arts and sciences school was beset by a financial crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Officials say the school has recovered through cost cutting, increased enrollments and donations, notably the $50 million given to arts and sciences by alumnus Zanvyl Krieger. This is the first year in the past decade the school projects a balanced budget.

But the school's 50-year-old Writing Seminars have lost media critic Mark Crispin Miller and former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand. Strand left this year for the University of Chicago after criticizing Hopkins over his pay and accusing the university administration of caring more about medicine than about humanities and poetry.

Kessler said he did not think the departures signaled serious malaise in the school.

"When there's no clear leadership, there's always going to be some forms of discontent," he said. "But I think everyone's ready to pull up their socks and get to work."

Kessler said he wants to better integrate the undergraduate arts and sciences program with Hopkins' traditional mission as a research and graduate institution. He said he also hopes to broaden the school's reach to include more work in Africa and Asia.

Another priority for Kessler will be helping Hopkins raise money for student financial aid and other needs. With gifts and pledges in the past four years exceeding $900 million, the board set a new goal Sunday of raising $300 million in the next two years.

Kessler is a 1961 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. He earned a master of fine arts degree in 1963 and a doctorate in 1965, both from Princeton University. He first taught at Chicago in 1965 and became that university's art chairman and director of fine arts before coming to Hopkins in 1976.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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