Hird Named Interim Dean of SBS

John A. Hird
Ben Barnhart
Monday, March 24, 2014

It is with great pleasure that the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences announces the Provost’s appointment of John A. Hird to the position of Interim Dean. He will begin his responsibilities on April 1 when Dean Robert S. Feldman assumes the role of Deputy Chancellor at UMass Amherst. Hird, who has been Senior Associate Dean since 2011, brings with him an impressive portfolio of program building, management, administration, teaching, and vision.

“I am delighted that John will be taking over the helm of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences,” says Feldman. “He is an extremely smart, dedicated, creative, and accomplished administrator, and I am certain he will lead the College with distinction. SBS, and the University, are lucky to have him.”

As Senior Associate Dean, Hird has worked closely with faculty to develop new initiatives. He was a key member of the advisory committee of the Institute for Social Science Research, which prior to opening its doors in fall 2012, spent a year of planning, visioning and engaging individuals, both on and off campus, to determine how the institute could best meet the university’s needs. 

Hird also worked with the Instructional Innovation Council to survey faculty instructional needs, establishing the position of Director of Instructional Innovation for the College, reviewing SBS curricular requirements, and creating an exciting and ambitious new student success proposal, which will soon be reviewed by departments. They are also launching a new teaching innovation program this summer with new faculty. Hird also chaired the campus-wide Curriculum Innovation committee of the Joint Task Force on Strategic Organization that recommended a new campus-wide position in instructional innovation, which will soon be established.

“I enjoy bringing people together to develop and achieve common goals, and my highest priority is to promote the success of our departments and centers,” says Hird. “Academic colleges like SBS are only as strong as their departments, centers and institutes, and we have some of the most dynamic and interesting social science departments and institutes in the country.

“The social sciences, and to some extent all sciences, face significant challenges convincing a skeptical public and elected officials of their continuing importance and relevance,” says Hird. “We need to champion the accomplishments of our outstanding faculty and students, demonstrating the many ways the social sciences educate, challenge, and influence society.”

He adds, “One of the many wonderful features of SBS faculty is their rich variety of research approaches, from highly quantitative and computational social science to fine-grained ethnographic and interpretive work. We want to develop and celebrate all these approaches and showcase the diverse talents of our faculty and students. I look forward to working with the committed and entrepreneurial SBS chairs and directors to support the health and vitality of departments and centers, which ultimately leads to faculty and student success.”

Previously, as chair of the Department of Political Science for five years, Hird made huge strides working with faculty to reshape the department. During that period he worked closely with faculty to craft the department’s innovative faculty hiring initiative, focusing on three main areas of contemporary political change: global forces; governance and institutions; and democracy, participation, and citizenship. With the dean’s support, the department hired 18 new faculty and three staff, formed an alumni advisory board, revamped the undergraduate curriculum, improved the advising system and departmental space, established an undergraduate research program, incorporated the Legal Studies program and major, and improved connections between the department and undergraduate clubs. In addition, he championed improvements to the graduate program and graduate student funding. It has become one of the most diverse and innovative political science departments in the country.

In 1998, when the Center for Public Policy and Administration and its master’s degree program came into being, thanks to the efforts of Dean Gordon and a handful of faculty led by Hird, he became its first director and shepherded the Center to growth and success. 

Hird continues to identify as a faculty member who teaches and conducts research. “That connection is important to me,” he says. “Obviously, my new role is administrative, but I plan to continue to teach and do research. Administrative tasks can make it easy to forget the real reason universities are here: to educate and create.” Hird is currently working on a project on the use of science in policymaking with Professor Bruce Desmarais in political science.

Hird, who earned his Ph.D. in public policy from the University of California Berkeley in 1988, also holds an M.P.P. from Berkeley (1986), an M.A. in economics from the University of Virginia (1982), and a B.A. in economics from Dickinson College (1980). Before coming to UMass Amherst in 1989, Hird was a staff economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and a research fellow in governmental studies at the Brookings Institution.

“It’s been a privilege to work with Bob Feldman over the past three years,” says Hird. “He’s been an extraordinary dean, and fortunately for the University he’s not going far.”