President, provost and dean move on to new prospects
February 21, 2019
Come September, President Michael Engh, S.J., Provost Dennis Jacobs and Dean of Arts and Sciences Debbie Tahmassebi will not be seen on campus. All three lead administrators will pursue new opportunites beyond Santa Clara.
They agree that, with the exception of their timing, their decisions to leave are unrelated to each other.
Tahmassebi preferred to think of it more as taking another opportunity and not a choice to leave Santa Clara.
“A part of my heart will always be here,” Tahmassebi said.
Engh will leave to assist in the care of his elderly parents in Southern California.
Throughout this process, he will be in dialogue with the provincial Jesuits about what needs Engh can help fulfill in higher education.
The university’s president is in charge of coordinating strategic planning, planning for the future state of the university and raising money so the school can continue to thrive.
The president is overseen by the board of trustees to manage the operations of the university and work with the provost and deans to develop academic programs.
“The position has evolved in response to what’s going on with universities across the United States,” Engh said. “Private colleges and universities face increasing challenges because of costs, accessibility and diminished state and federal support.”
Engh is especially proud of the hiring he has done of staff and administration. He says they are highly dedicated and cutting-edge leaders. He is also pleased with the development of the LEAD scholars program, an initiative for first-generation college students that focuses on academic success, community engagement and vocational exploration .
Challenges that Engh has struggled with during his time at Santa Clara includes the dip in interest in the humanities.
More students have expressed interest in professional schools like business and engineering, but educating the whole person is a core value of a Santa Clara education.
Ten years ago, Engh was at Loyola Marymount University as the dean of liberal arts.
What drew him in was the strong academic reputation and emphasis on social justice Santa Clara holds.
Similar principles brought Jacobs to Santa Clara.
“Santa Clara, being a Jesuit institution, has a set of values that resonated strongly with my own personal values and what I thought was the ultimate purpose of higher education,” Jacobs said, “which is really transforming students’ lives.”
At Santa Clara, Jacobs serves as the chief academic officer and is responsible for hiring all deans. Jacobs oversees academic programming at the undergraduate and graduate level and the appointment of faculty.
Also encompassed in Jacobs’ position is managing the process of tenure promotion, student life and information services.
Jacobs is most proud of the many spaces Santa Clara provides for spontaneous collaboration and both formal and informal learning.
The Santa Clara 2020 plan, which has been in the works since Jacobs’ first years at the university, is another component of his responsibilities he finds exciting.
Upon leaving Santa Clara, Jacobs predicts he will miss the people and their “unified commitment to a common mission.”
“The individuals who are here are here because of that mission,” Jacobs said.
Replacing Jacobs as provost is Lisa A. Kloppenberg, who currently serves as senior dean.
Jacobs appreciates Kloppenberg’s love for the mission of Santa Clara and the depth of her administrative experience, stating that she is the ideal leader for this role in the next academic year.
Jacobs will become the provost and senior vice president at Fordham University following his time at Santa Clara as provost and vice president of academic affairs.
He reiterated that he pursued his new career opportunity independently of his colleagues.
“It’s very common that an incoming president will want to shape their own team of provosts and deans,” Jacobs said.
The former provost of Fordham suddenly passed away and left a void Jacobs thought he could serve well in.
Jacobs claimed the average tenure of a provost in the United States is four and a half years, so his eight years at Santa Clara was an outlier.
Jacobs anticipates he will need to adjust to Fordham’s size, which is twice the student body of Santa Clara but spread out over two campuses.
Fordham has the largest social services school in the country and has a strong fine arts program due to its opportune location in New York.
He described Fordham’s location as “more of an international location,” with the United Nations a mile away from campus.
Located between Santa Clara and Fordham, Tahmassebi will serve as provost at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tahmassebi is in her fourth year at Santa Clara and oversees faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Sciences.
She worked at University of San Diego in chemistry and biochemistry before coming to Santa Clara.
The emphasis on comprehensive learning is something that Tahmassebi appreciates about the university.
She has enjoyed working directly with department chairs and has worked hard to accommodate the needs of the faculty as well as the students.
Tahmassebi works in faculty recruiting in collaboration with the departments and also works with those departments as they develop new programs, majors and curriculums.
The transition to Westminster will be simple in terms of numbers for Tahmassebi, with Westminster’s student body being similar to that of Santa Clara’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Westminster is liberal arts driven, but Tahmassebi expects the status, age and wealth of people on campus to shift for her.
Like Jacobs, Tamassebi will miss the people the most, a sentiment also shared by Engh.
“What I’ve found here that I will miss very much is the strong community spirit that exists among faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni,” Engh said. “There is a spirit here that I haven’t found elsewhere.”
Contact Meghan McLaughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.