After serving for 12 years as the Centre College vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, Stephanie Fabritius has announced her decision to step away effective June 30.
In a statement to the campus community, Fabritius said she plans to embrace a full-year sabbatical, tackling a number of projects that have accumulated and have had to remain untouched, before returning to the faculty in the fall of 2019.
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to be involved in providing leadership to the academic program,” she wrote. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your friendship and support.”
The first woman to serve as dean of the College, Fabritius provided leadership for numerous initiatives at Centre during her tenure.
She will perhaps be best remembered for her support of undergraduate student internships and research, expansion of the Center for Teaching and Learning, efforts to achieve grant funding in support of College initiatives and co-creation of the faculty athletic liaison program. She also played a key role in shaping the Brown Fellows Program, a full-ride plus scholarship program that has brought more than 100 talented students to Centre since its inception in 2009.
According to Centre President John A. Roush, “Her body of work as academic dean is one to be celebrated, and she is richly deserving of our praise. From start to finish, Stephanie’s contributions have been many and varied and valuable. Both she and her husband, Mike (a distinguished member of our economics and finance program), have been remarkable citizen-leaders on our campus and in our city.”
A behavioral ecologist who specializes in avian research, Fabritius began her career at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, in 1988, received tenure in 1993, and was promoted to full professor in 1999. From 2000 to 2004 she held the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair in the Sciences.
After serving as biology department chair and becoming involved in college-wide committee work, Fabritius expanded her administrative portfolio by participating in the American Council on Education fellow program for emerging leaders, spending the 2002-03 academic year at Bowdoin College. After returning to Southwestern, she took on new responsibilities as associate provost and director of the Paideia Program.
Since her arrival in July 2006, Fabritius has been a major force behind Centre’s signature approach to personal education by maintaining a low student-faculty ratio of 10:1 and keeping at least 60 percent of classes under 20 students.
She also achieved a 28 percent increase in full-time faculty, from 101 to 129, and worked to augment the number of class sections by 51, from 264 to 315. Equally remarkable is the fact that Fabritius has overseen the hiring of 69 percent of the College’s full-time faculty, or 89 out of the current 129.
In addition, Fabritius recognized the need to create support for faculty to seek external funding for their own research and also to develop a strong focus on seeking institutional grants that could move strategic aspects of the College forward.
During her time as academic dean, more than $6 million in grant awards were obtained by the College from funders both private and federal, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Henry Luce Foundation, the James Graham Brown Foundation and many others.
Awards for individual faculty scholarship and broad initiatives supported the creation of new academic majors and minors, faculty-mentored undergraduate research, engaged and experiential learning, diversity and inclusion, equipment and instrumentation in the sciences, collaboration with member institutions in the Associated Colleges of the South and renovation of Centre’s main science building, Young Hall.
She has also been, as former colleague Nayef Samhat describes her, “an exceptional mentor and dear friend.”
Now the president of Wofford College, Samhat worked closely with Fabritius when he served as Centre’s associate dean from 2003 to 2006.
“She offered new and exciting ideas, shared her experiences with me and supported me in my role as her associate dean,” says Samhat. “When I later served as provost [at Kenyon College], she was a constant source of wisdom as I encountered new and interesting (and even unexpected) issues.”
Beth Glazier, the H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Emerita Professor of Religion, also worked with Fabritius as associate dean, from 2011 to 2016.
“Stephanie was one of the strongest advocates for the faculty that I have ever met, and she played a critical role through the years standing up for the faculty and putting their concerns before the president, senior staff and the board of trustees.”
Glazier also recalls how Fabritius was constantly on the lookout for ways to support the faculty, including retired faculty. “She also started the Professional Recognition Receptions around 2008, and we all appreciated the opportunities to hear and celebrate what colleagues were doing in their respective fields,” says Glazier.
Another notable initiative, points out Glazier, is the faculty liaison program for student-athletes created with Professor of Chemistry Joe Workman in 2010. Glazier calls Fabritius “an absolutely marvelous” liaison herself, whether attending women’s basketball games, cheering players on or even feeding them at her home.
The former and current faculty presidents also give equally high marks.
Bruce Johnson, the James Graham Brown Professor of Economics, highlights Fabritius’ commitment to research for both students and faculty.
“One of her greatest contributions to the academic life of the College has been her encouragement and support of student research,” says Johnson, “which has now become so integral to the Centre experience it has been incorporated into the Centre Commitment.”
Perhaps the most visible manifestation is the annual Research, Internships and Creative Endeavors (RICE) symposium, which she started immediately upon arrival. Johnson calls this “a boon to professors seeking to motivate students to produce higher quality research.”
He also credits the Center for Teaching and Learning for flourishing under her leadership, with countless professors benefiting from the workshops, logistical support, pedagogical lunches and other initiatives instituted during her tenure as academic dean.
“In short,” Johnson concludes, “Stephanie has been a committed and effective advocate for Centre’s faculty and academic program, from recruiting to pedagogy to research to professional development. And she has done so with absolute integrity.”
Lori Hartmann, the Frank B. and Virginia B. Hower Professor of International Studies and current faculty president, shares Johnson’s admiration.
“Stephanie has been an exemplary academic dean in terms of her hard work and dedication to Centre College,” says Hartmann. “She is a caring person who approaches her work with honesty, integrity and diligence.”
Beyond Centre, Fabritius has been equally involved in the profession as a whole, participating in campus reaffirmation of accreditation evaluations for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and serving various roles in national organizations such as the Council of Independent Colleges, the American Conference for Academic Deans and the Annapolis Group (an association of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and universities), as well as the 16-member Associated Colleges of the South (ACS).
ACS President R. Owen Williams has long admired Fabritius, going back to his tenure as president of Transylvania University. He credits her with helping solidify Centre’s position as one of America’s finest liberal arts colleges and for serving “with such grace and collegiality as to enhance the standing and reputation of Centre College.”
He adds that during a period when she was one of very few women to serve as a chief academic officer at an ACS institution, “her insights and sensibilities guided the Council of Deans through many of its most significant deliberations and accomplishments.” As chair of the ACS Strategic Planning Committee, Williams adds, “Stephanie distinguished herself and helped move ACS in new and promising directions.”
Asked what she is most proud of accomplishing during her tenure, Fabritius is quick to note that positively impacting students is at the top of her list.
“By helping faculty be successful, as well as the College expand strategically,” she says, “I hope the educational experience of a good number of students has been strengthened in the process.”
On higher education as a whole, Fabritius says she’s “convinced that the liberal arts college setting is the best way to educate young people. That’s because we can’t even begin to predict the problems and challenges we will face in the years and decades to come. As such, the solutions will not come from one particular discipline.”
This requires, she says, “being nimble and able to look at things from multiple perspectives and from an experiential and experimental background.”
Fabritius recalls the profound transformational moment she had as an undergraduate in her sophomore year at Pepperdine University, joining several students and faculty members in a new summer-long biology research program studying an endangered subspecies of Savannah Sparrows in a California salt marsh at Point Mugu.
“On our first pre-dawn van ride to the salt marsh,” Fabritius muses, “and after we pulled up at a little pullout alongside the Pacific Coast Highway, I remember the moment my professors held the barbed wire fence separating the parking area from the marsh, wide open enough for me to step through.”
She recalls taking a big gulp and ducking down to make her way through the fence.
“That experience studying those sparrows in the salt marsh was heady for a 19-year-old. Imagine learning things that we didn’t previously know or understand through the process. Because of it, I became a completely different kind of learner, and that has stayed with me to this day.”
As she contemplates the next chapter in what has already been a remarkable career, Fabritius is circumspect.
“I now realize even more what an amazing metaphor crossing through that fence really was for me. And no matter where I am and what I do, I hope to create similar opportunities for other equally curious students.”
by Michael Strysick
March 29, 2018