Brook Muller, dean of the College of Arts + Architecture, is among UNC Charlotte’s newest academic leaders. He arrived in fall 2019 from the University of Oregon, where he was director of the Portland Architecture Program and a professor in the Architecture Department
With impressive credentials and a fresh perspective to coincide with the energy generated by the arrival of a new chancellor, Keynton is one of several new dynamic leaders who is eager to apply his expertise to the opportunities facing COA+A and lessons learned from the current global pandemic to the future of higher education.
What is it about UNC Charlotte that interested you in pursuing a position of leadership?
The University’s urban research and community engagement commitments align perfectly with my work and values. Plus, I sensed strong optimism, open-mindedness and pride in the institution and its mission. My decision to come here was reinforced on the first day of new faculty orientation in August 2019, which took place uptown, where conversations with city council members and leaders of nonprofits and community organizations made an enormous impression.
Considering the University’s research potential, in what areas do you see research growing? How important are community partners to this endeavor?
We certainly can galvanize research activity around shared areas of interest across our academic units by addressing pressing challenges confronting contemporary society. Our ability to show that we are engaged in a vibrant, deeply relevant cross-college dialogue is key for attracting significant external funding. Overall, we must define research broadly; I recognize that the arts are seen by some as helping visualize the hard research occurring in the sciences, and yet if we are talking about meaning making, artistic sensibilities, practices and research have a central role to play.
What are the near-term priorities for your college?
The College of Arts + Architecture aims to address issues of equity, anti-racism and social justice and commit to increased internationalization and engagement of diverse and global perspectives. It’s essential that we address environmental justice and contend with the impacts of climate change that will affect people disproportionately and unfairly. In this time beset with challenges, we must think boldly and position, through our programming, the arts and design as engines of civic imagination and social change.
The circumstances of 2020 have changed the landscape of higher education. What is the value proposition for students?
My mentor and former dean Frances Bronet, now president of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, points out that this is exactly the time to be in college. People are exploring new platforms for education, critical practice and communication like never before, and students should absolutely play a part in experimenting with these emerging modalities. Let us figure this out together — not presume that faculty have full expertise. Assume the intelligence of those we work with, provide the resources, facilitate a process and ask students to help us invent this new educational landscape.
What will higher education look like on the other side of the pandemic; how should the industry prepare?
The impacts of COVID on arts and design education are enormous and will be long-lasting. What gives me optimism and solace is to witness the inventiveness of our faculty in terms of developing new mediums for expression and critical dialogue. Theatre faculty, for example, are exploring virtual performances that will be part of our programming forever. And yet we are not only dealing with COVID; we absolutely have to consider how Black Lives Matter will change higher education positively and irrevocably, as well as the current crisis in democracy characterized by extreme partisanship and inability to find common ground. How can higher education and especially, for us, higher education in the arts and design, address these deeply consequential matters? On the other side of this challenging period, let us remember what the arts mean for society. People look to the arts in such times as a way to come to terms with the feeling of helplessness and senselessness. People also look to the arts when they seek uplift and joy. They are central to our experience as human beings.