Q&A With New Dean Monica J. Casper

Monica CasperWhat makes you uniquely suited for this role?

I bring an unusual career trajectory and skill set to this position. I left academia several years ago and ran a nonprofit, then came back into academia. I understand and have worked across different sectors. And I’ve continued my engagements in the nonprofit sector for decades, as a member of boards, a consultant, and a financial supporter.

I’m also as passionate about students and their success as I am about faculty, including professional development and striking a work-life balance. I also believe I’m approachable; sometimes, senior academic leaders can be intimidating to students, family members, community members, and others, especially in our status-oriented culture.

What are you most looking forward to at San Diego State University?

SDSU is a phenomenal place: an HSI at the border with R1 aspirations, strong leadership, an exciting and doable strategic plan, and dedicated alumni who have remained in the region. This makes for an ideal context for a new dean to come in and build on what’s already in place, while collaborating on new ideas and ventures and enrolling new stakeholders.

I’m excited to help lead CAL into the next phase of SDSU’s growth, including figuring out how to meld a demonstrable love for teaching and students, with R1 aspirations.

In what key areas do you hope you can have an impact?

I come with significant experience innovating faculty affairs, including finding new and better ways to support faculty of all ranks and categories. I aim to provide leadership that is deeply attentive to faculty concerns and needs. I’m also demonstrably committed to diversity and inclusion, and am eager to collaborate with others at SDSU who are already doing great work in this area.

Tell me about a few career highlights?

My first book, The Making of the Unborn Patient, won the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

In my recent associate dean role, I’m really pleased with the suite of services and programs my team has built for our faculty, from recruitment through retirement. Our onboarding practices are better than any I’ve seen – and I hope to bring these “best practices” with me.

Monica Casper with elephant in Thailand

What is your leadership style?

Transparent, collaborative, optimistic, supportive, dependable, ethical, and strategic. I also strive for fun (as appropriate), because even tough, hard issues like those facing higher education don’t preclude enjoying oneself at work and laughing with colleagues.

What aspects of working in academia keep you engaged/interested?

Academia as an industry touches so many lives! Students, first and foremost, through education. But higher education also impacts communities and society through research and outreach. Universities are often vital centers of their communities, cities, and regions, not only as large employers, but for the kinds of ideas, creative works, discoveries, theories, findings, patents, partnerships, and collaborations they bring. For me, universities – even in tough times, like now – are one of the best incubators we have for innovating social change.

What is the last book you read for fun?

I read all the time, and often have more than one book going at once. Currently, I’m reading one of Lily King’s early novels, The English Teacher. I discovered her through reading Euphoria, a novel inspired by Margaret Mead, and am now devouring her other work. On the nonfiction side, I’ve been reading Robert MacFarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey. And just before bed, I like to read bits of poetry; I’ve got Mary Oliver at the bedside, along with Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal and Marie Howe’s Magdalene.

Name a favorite inspirational quote?

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, 1986.