Skylar McVicar ‘23
This year, Davidson welcomed economist Philip Jefferson as the new Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty.
Dean Jefferson began his career in academia as an undergraduate at Vassar College in New York. Originally, Jefferson was set on entering business; however, Vassar is a liberal arts college and introduced Jefferson to the economics department. Jefferson was hooked and has been studying economics ever since.
After college, Jefferson took two years off and returned to his home town of Washington D.C., where he worked as a research assistant for the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve System. Subsequently, he attended graduate school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which prepared him for his first job at Columbia University. While teaching at Columbia, Jerfferson went on sabbatical for a year at the University of California Berkeley, where he met an economics professor from Swarthmore. Eventually, Jefferson was invited to teach a seminar at Swarthmore and was offered a full-time position.
Although happy at Swarthmore, Jefferson was intrigued by Davidson because he thought of it as a special place.
“I knew of [Davidson’s] reputation and of its great students, and I was impressed by the faculty and really liked its focus on educating the whole student [by] cultivating moral courage and the honor system,” Jefferson said.
After Davidson’s search committee contacted Jefferson, he immediately thought of Davidson as a place where he could see himself making a contribution.
Through his job as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Jefferson hopes to work with the faculty to create a curriculum that will prepare students for their future lives. He is also very focused on providing professional development for faculty so that each faculty member can have the career that they imagined.
Jefferson understands that one of Davidson’s main responsibilities, “is to do all that it can so that [professors’] lives are rewarding, they have opportunities to fulfill their pedagogical and professional goals, and they have the opportunity to express their creativity in their chosen form.”
Jefferson strives to create an environment where faculty can flourish in their chosen discipline. In addition to serving as a dean, Jefferson also has an appointment in the economics department. Jefferson is “very happy that it worked out that I could still be a part of the faculty and dean.”
He thinks of himself as a faculty member in that it keeps him close to the concerns that a faculty member would have. This dual-position directs his attention to the students because “even as Dean, one of the things that is most important to me is the student experience.”
Jefferson constantly asks himself what Davidson is doing to enhance the student experience. In terms of his decision-making, one of the first things he thinks about when making a policy decision that pertains to the faculty or to the curriculum is wondering how the decision will benefit students. Since the faculty’s uniting purpose is the positive impact they want to have on the students, Jefferson directs his focus toward students so that the faculty can move in one common direction.
The faculty recently approved an academic strategic plan with three pillars: to encourage innovative explorations by students, to develop a curriculum that integrates humane instincts, and to make the learning environment engaging and inclusive.
“What we are doing now as a faculty is figuring out how to manifest those goals in the curriculum. That requires developing courses of study that are consistent with those goals. So part of my excitement for coming here is to work with the faculty to figure that out in real terms,” Jefferson commented.
Since being on campus, Jefferson has enjoyed making connections with people at Davidson.
Jefferson noted that “Davidson has been very intentional in terms of the type of community it is trying to create. Professors are like the students in some respect, everyone has self-selected into this community.”
He believes that the endearing and enduring characteristics of Davidson prepares students to go out into the world to do great things because of the foundation of integrity prioritized on-campus and in classes.
As of now, Jefferson’s favorite part of his job is going around to the different departments and programs and talking to their faculty. He appreciates how much he has learned about the culture of Davidson in the last few weeks from the individual meetings with faculty members.
Jefferson said, “So far the highlight for me has been meeting faculty members and learning about their lives, their aspirations, and their concerns. And at some point I am hoping that with this body of information and working with them we will be able to meet our common goals.”