By Courtney Flynn
Lynn Weiner will be stepping down as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, after leading Roosevelt University’s largest college for 12 years. In July she will become university historian and begin writing a comprehensive history of Roosevelt’s first 50 years.
Under Weiner’s leadership, student enrollment has grown by a third, the number of full-time faculty has increased by more than 25 percent and new undergraduate and graduate programs have been developed.
She also has helped create a partnership with the John Marshall Law School, an honors program at the Newberry Library, an alumni advisory council, and a number of centers and institutes, including Roosevelt’s Center for New Deal Studies.
But beyond all of Weiner’s administrative accomplishments is the human imprint she has left on so many of her colleagues who genuinely value her leadership, friendship and commitment to producing a vibrant educational environment for both faculty and students.
“‘Effective’ is not the adjective I would use to describe her, ‘extraordinary’ is the adjective I would use,” said Associate Professor of Philosophy Stuart Warner, a longtime colleague. “It is the greatest of underestimations to say she’ll be missed. I really have difficulty imagining the college without her.”
As dean, Weiner is known for her warm and welcoming personality. She has an open-door policy, frequently inviting into her office students and faculty to discuss everything from classwork to new research possibilities. She has been a supportive administrator to both longtime and junior faculty, collaborating with them on ideas she then allowed them to accomplish without micromanaging.
And as well-liked as she has been by faculty and staff, Weiner in turn glows when she speaks of them and their many accomplishments.
“The number one job of a dean is to create the conditions for other people’s success – and those people are the students, faculty and staff,” Weiner said. “It’s not me who did all of these things, I just helped enable them to happen.”
A native of Detroit, Weiner grew up with three siblings, including an identical twin sister who teaches at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill. The Roosevelt dean earned her bachelor’s degree in history in 1972 from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in American Studies from Boston University.
In 1981, she and her husband, Tom Moher, now an emeritus professor and researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, moved to Chicago since Moher was applying for jobs in computer science, her sister was living in the area and she thought it would be easy to start her career in the big city.
But she was wrong; there were no history positions available. She ended up taking various jobs, such as writing articles for Encyclopedia Britannica, working at Hull House as a research associate on the Jane Addams Papers Project and teaching half-time at Northwestern University, before landing a position as an adjunct lecturer at Roosevelt in 1983.
By 1991, Weiner had applied for and became an associate professor of history at the University. Then, from 1993 to 2000, she served as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She was appointed acting dean in 2000 and dean in 2001. She also served for a year as interim provost and executive vice president of the University from 2003 to 2004.
“Lynn is somebody who has embraced Roosevelt, its mission and foundation of social justice,” said Heather Dalmage, professor of sociology and director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation. “She has been able to bring that mission forward. She gets the history and she gets the vision of moving us into the future.” Weiner also is supportive of the faculty’s desire to balance their course load with the ability to pursue research opportunities.
When she applied last November for a fellowship to explore wrongful convictions, Shari Berkowitz, assistant professor of psychology, said she sent an e-mail to Weiner to let her know about it. Weiner immediately wrote back and asked to meet with her so she could help improve Berkowitz’s chances.
“She could have just said, ‘Go ahead and apply,’ but she took the time out to meet with me,” Berkowitz said. “The fact that she mentored me in that way, it’s just incredible. I think the world of her.”
She has also entrusted her faculty with getting various centers and institutes off the ground in an effort to broaden the University’s reach within the community and beyond.
Roughly four years ago, Weiner approached Bethany Barratt, associate professor of political science, about developing the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project. Barratt has been the project’s director ever since.
“It’s been an absolutely life-changing thing for about a dozen students every year. We allow students to go abroad and study a human rights issue,” Barratt said. “I’m so honored to be a part of it. It’s just not an opportunity that comes along every day and it’s not one that would have come along without having someone like Lynn to support me.”
From an administrative standpoint, Weiner has proved to faculty that she values and understands their perspective as professors from her days in the same role.
“Most administrators have been professors at some point in their life, but they forget what it’s like to teach, what it’s like to work with students, what it’s like to have a huge workload,” said Norbert Cordeiro, assistant professor of biology. “Lynn is different. She has the ability to fall back to that time. She’s got a vision and creativity that’s unusual in a leader.”
Indeed, Weiner has successfully brought together a diverse faculty that she supports while allowing them to pursue their own goals.
“Dean Weiner owns a leadership style that focuses on empowering others. There are not a lot of people who can pull that off,” said Mickey Brazeal, associate professor of integrated marketing communication. “The dean has quite the remarkable talent of causing myriad visions to harmonize.”
In her new role as university historian, Weiner said she will work closely with Roosevelt President Chuck Middleton to raise funds and generate ideas from those who have had a longtime association with the University. In addition, she will write about the heritage, history and mission of Roosevelt in a publication to be published in time for the University’s 70th anniversary in 2015. (See article)
With her educational roots in history and her career- long passion for the University’s beginning and growth, she is well-suited for her new role, her friends and colleagues said. A prize-winning historian, she has published a book and numerous journal articles, book chapters and reviews in her field of 19th and 20th century U.S. social and cultural history. She surrounds herself with history every day. Her office walls are lined with framed historical postcards featuring the Auditorium Building. Her bookshelf holds a black shadowbox displaying an old brass key with a leather tag from Room 830 of the Auditorium Hotel. She also has a luggage tag and white ceramic creamer with green lettering from the old hotel. Tucked away in her desk is a souvenir from the 1893 World’s Fair with detailed speculations about the Auditorium Building.
“She has history in her veins,” said Ron Tallman, dean emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences who appointed Weiner as associate dean. “Lynn is a wonderful historian, a wonderful scholar. She is just a rock-solid academic and very, very smart.”
Weiner has achieved much success in her own right as dean, and was elected to serve for six years on the board of directors of the national dean’s organization – the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences. But she said she is grateful for those who came before her, such as Tallman, who mentored her in how to manage a college from the ground up. She also credits Middleton and former president Theodore Gross as “enthusiastic supporters of the role of the arts and sciences in a comprehensive university.” Both Middleton and Gross made it possible for Weiner to work toward expanding the reach and depth of the college, she said.
“This has been a really fun ride for me,” Weiner said. “You know when you’re a little girl, you don’t dream of growing up to be dean. But life takes twists and turns and this opportunity emerged. I hope I’ve done some things that matter and made a difference in people’s lives. I hope I’ve done at least that.”