SPA dean leaves behind legacy of success

SPA Dean Barbara Romzek raised SPA’s rankings and fostered a community among the faculty and students

SPA dean leaves behind legacy of success

SPA Dean Barbara Romzek will step down as dean in July 2017.

Dr. Barbara Romzek will step down from her post as dean of the School of Public Affairs in July, after five years in the position, during which time she oversaw the school's increase in rankings.

SPA was ranked fifth in the world and first in Washington in 2014 for the impact of its research in public administration by the Journal of Public Affairs Education. Its graduate public administration program is ranked third in the country, and the terrorism and homeland security graduate program, introduced in 2014, is tenth in the country.

“What the school has done in the last five years is significantly ramp the faculty productivity, ramp up the student success and, in particular, expand the engagement we have with the D.C. policy community,” Romzek said. “People who make policy are paying attention to the work we do, and scholars who work in these fields are paying attention to the work our faculty is doing.”

Provost Scott Bass, Romzek’s immediate supervisor, said SPA’s rankings have improved, but he listed many other areas of improvement seen under Romzek, including expanded grants and contracts, hiring of prestigious faculty, productivity of faculty, public recognition and student awards.

“Those things are all very helpful in increasing the visibility and prestige of the School of Public Affairs,” Bass said. “Those are all things deans worry about, and Barbara’s done very well. Also, during this time period, she won the most prestigious award in public administration, the [John] Gaus award.”

Romzek said one of her goals when she became dean was to create a “collective impact for the work of faculty and students” during her five year deanship.

“It was a school that had very high quality faculty and students, but there wasn’t the sense of collective action,” Romzek said. “There wasn’t the sense that the whole was greater than … the parts. We had a lot of really good parts.”

Romzek was chosen for the Gaus award in 2014 for "a lifetime of exemplary scholarship in the joint tradition of political science and public administration,’ according to an American University press release. Romzek is an expert in management and accountability of public administrations.

Romzek’s replacement has not been chosen, but Dr. Vicky Wilkins, SPA’s senior associate dean for Academic Affairs, was announced as the interim dean on April 4. Wilkins said she and Romzek work in the same field and have collaborated on projects for SPA.

“I could tell that she was interested in doing a lot of interesting work,” Wilkins said. “I think she has been really generous with her time. … We started a three year initiative that I think has successfully allowed our faculty to propose their own ideas for ways that they feel we can increase our visibility and the impact of our research. We set up a system to fund those ideas and I think that’s extremely rare in higher education.”

Wilkins said that they also have made gains in graduate student enrollment. She said she was “happy” to step into the interim role to keep the momentum that Romzek has started.

“I think in the next year we have work to do ...  [including] improving processes that are problematic, continuing our real commitment to diversity and inclusion, keeping graduate enrollments up, keeping the research for our graduate students going and putting an emphasis there and just a lot of innovation,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said she plans on applying to become the permanent dean after her year serving as the interim dean.

Romzek said she will return to academia and continue her research at AU on accountability of public officials after a one year sabbatical.

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