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Barbara J. Wilson named dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at University of Illinois

Barbara Wilson
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L. Brian Stauffer

Barbara J. Wilson, the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs at Illinois has been named the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, pending approval of the university’s board of trustees.

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5/8/2014 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Barbara J. Wilson, the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been named the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, pending approval of the university’s board of trustees.

Wilson, the Kathryn Lee Baynes Dallenbach Professor of Communication, a department head for seven years and former member of the LAS Executive Committee, joined the U. of I. faculty in 2000 after 12 years as a faculty member at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she was the director of graduate studies.

“I’m supposed to say, ‘I look forward to serving in this pivotal campus role,’ ” she said, “and while that’s true, it really feels more like I’m coming home. I have spent my academic career supporting and celebrating the merits of a liberal arts education at a major research university, and I can’t wait to continue doing that as dean.”

Ilesanmi Adesida, the provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, praised Wilson’s skills and knowledge.

“No task has been too large or difficult for Barbara,” he said. “She’s successfully tackled every project that’s been assigned to her and shown a remarkable ability to pivot to a broad range of responsibilities. As a member of my budget team, she has become immersed in university funding mechanisms and practices.”

Wilson has assisted the provost in decisions regarding a wide range of campus academic issues, as well as strategic planning, budget and resource allocation, and university funding mechanisms and practices. She also has overseen all aspects of faculty affairs, including faculty development, promotion, tenure and retention, and leadership development.

“My position includes working regularly with all of the deans and many faculty and staff members across campus,” she said. “I recognize every day that the success of this complex and foundational college is absolutely crucial to the success of the broader campus. I love working with faculty, I am a passionate advocate for the liberal arts and sciences, and I enjoy helping to build programs and opportunities for students.”

As communication department head, Wilson led an initiative to revamp the curriculum and created program tracks to help students translate liberal arts curriculum into career interests. The department’s enrollment grew by 40 percent under her leadership; the faculty, by 20 percent.

The most pressing issue facing LAS, and the campus generally, she said, is in maintaining excellence in a period of limited funding.

She said she will continue to support campus initiatives to better link students and faculty members across disciplines in creative and research activities, and she will keep up her work to attract and retain a top-level and diverse faculty. Meeting those goals will take alternative revenue streams, including a greater emphasis on alumni outreach and fundraising, she said.

In addition, Wilson said a liberal arts education has never been more important.

“When employers are asked about the skills they are looking for in a college graduate, a good number of those skills are at the heart of a liberal arts education,” she said. “(They’re looking for) the ability to write and speak well, the ability to think clearly about complex problems, the ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems, and the ability to work with in teams, especially with people from diverse backgrounds.”

Wilson earned three degrees at the University of Wisconsin at Madison: a bachelor’s in journalism; a master’s in communication arts; and a doctorate in communications arts. In addition to her work at Santa Barbara, Wilson earlier was a professor of communication at the University of Louisville.

Her research focuses on the social and psychological effects of the media, particularly on youth. She is a co-author of “Children, Adolescents and the Media" (third edition, 2014) and three book volumes of the “National Television Violence Study.” She also co-edited the “Handbook of Children, Media and Development” and has written more than 100 published articles, chapters and technical reports on media effects and their implications for media policy.

Wilson serves on the editorial boards of five academic journals, including Journal of Communication, Media Psychology and Journal of Media and Children. In 2008, she was named a fellow of the International Communication Association.

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