Nurturing the undergrad experience
German scholar and seasoned administrator Robert Holub appointed dean of Letters & Science Undergraduate Division
| 20 August 2003
The 18,300 undergraduates in the College of Letters & Science (L&S) have a dedicated advocate in newly appointed Dean Robert Holub. Appointed Undergraduate Division dean effective July 1, Holub is continuing the efforts of outgoing Dean Kwong-loi Shun while hoping to advance new initiatives as well.
Holub, a longtime faculty member and former chair of the German department, will draw on his administrative experience at Berkeley to lead the L&S Under-graduate Division, one of the most important posts affecting undergraduate education at Berkeley — and one of the least understood.
The relative invisibility of the division stems from the unique structure of L&S — which, unlike other schools or colleges at Berkeley, is led collectively by five deans. Other L&S deans oversee four broadly defined disciplines: the Arts and Humanities, the Biological Sciences, the Physical Sciences, and the Social Sciences. The L&S Undergraduate Division deals with undergraduate issues that span the college and oversees the division’s four units: Academic Enrichment, Undergraduate Advising, Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies, and Undergraduate Policy and Analysis.
In many respects, Holub will work to further Shun’s priorities, including increasing student-faculty interaction and making popular majors more accessible.
“One of things that I’ll do,” he says, “is nurture programs, such as the Sophomore Seminar Program and the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Pro-gram, that bring faculty in contact with undergraduates and enable undergraduates to learn from scholars and scientists in the forefront of their fields. I will also try to improve access to certain majors that right now are capped or closed.”
Additionally, Holub says, “I would like to look into making breadth requirements more meaningful, so they better provide a broad undergraduate education.” Noting that a central tenet of a liberal-arts education is to provide a foundation of essential areas of knowledge, Holub would like to rethink the L&S breadth requirements so that they better serve the liberal-arts ideal.
“Currently, most courses that satisfy breadth requirements were developed to prepare students to major in a particular discipline,” he says. “They were designed in the context of a certain discipline and of a certain major. Students may be better served if such courses are designed to give a broader view of the disciplines in which students are not going to major. After all, these are breadth requirements, not narrowness requirements.”
The well-being and productivity of his staff are as important to Holub as is the education of L&S undergraduates. “In fact, a primary objective of my job is to assist staff so that they are able to perform more effectively,” he says. “I’ve been meeting with senior staff members and have been very impressed. They’re a very experienced group with tremendous knowledge and expertise. At present they have a lot more to teach me than I have to bring to them.”
Holub’s involvement in governance and educational issues in L&S included three years on the college’s Executive Committee. He has served on many campus committees, often within the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, where last year he chaired the Committee on Budget and Interdepartmental Relations; previously he chaired the Committee for Educational Policy and served on the Academic Freedom Com-mittee. He has also served on Berkeley’s Strategic Planning Committee and the systemwide Academic Senate University Com-mittee on Educational Policy.
Despite Holub’s administrative duties, he still finds time to pursue his scholarly interests. He has researched and published on a variety of topics in 19th- and 20th-century German literature and intellectual history, with recent work focusing on the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, and the ways in which Germans came to terms with fascism and the Holocaust.
His views on Nietzsche differ somewhat from those of most Nietzsche scholars in the United States. In contrast to the image of Nietzsche as the philosopher of the will to power or eternal recurrence, Holub is interested in how the philosopher responded to social discourses and movements of his time.
“In various contexts Nietzsche wrote about issues such as the women’s question, the Jewish question, the colonial question, the worker question, and the nationalist question, but philosophical inquiries rarely take these remarks as seriously as they should,” Holub insists. Over the past decade he has published widely on these topics, and is currently preparing a monograph entitled Nietzsche and the Discourses of the Nineteenth Century.