Smith Reflects on Research Emphasis During His Tenure

July 19, 2016

Tom Smith sits in his new office in the special education program of the College of Education and Health Professions.
Tom Smith sits in his new office in the special education program of the College of Education and Health Professions.

When asked recently about the most significant accomplishments during his time as dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, Tom Smith didn’t mention new, innovative programs such as Arkansas Teacher Corps and the Office for Innovation in Education or new scholarships such as one from the world’s best-selling author or new construction such as the Peabody Hall renovation and the Epley Center for Health Professions.

He didn’t even mention the college receiving, with the Arkansas Department of Education, what is believed to be the largest research grant ever awarded to the University of Arkansas.

Instead, he talked about the people.

“I started with a solid foundation built by former Dean Reed Greenwood and a dedicated group of faculty members who have spent many years here working to improve the quality of the education and the service we offer to students and practitioners,” Smith said.

The blend of veteran faculty with newcomers helped focus the college on building its research base.

“Helping get the culture changed in our college toward an emphasis on more research was very important to me,” Smith said. “And, that means people supporting that change and working hard to make it happen, both faculty and staff members.”

Smith stepped down June 30 after seven years as dean. He served a one-year appointment as interim dean in 2009 after Greenwood completed his appointment. Smith then accepted a five-year appointment, followed by a one-year appointment as the college searched for a new dean. Michael Miller, formerly associate dean of academic affairs, officially took over the dean’s position on July 1.

“Our graduate education programs went from not being ranked by U.S. News & World Report to No. 70 among public institutions this year,” Smith said. “Our college is No. 25 in funded research among the public institutions with $16.3 million, and we were No. 32 in funded research per faculty member among the public institutions with $194,600. The research our faculty members conduct, often in collaboration with students, also benefits the public as we add knowledge to inform and improve the field of education.”

Talking with candidates for faculty positions when they visit campus is one of the most fun aspects of being dean, he said.

“We’ve had the opportunity to hire some fabulous faculty members,” Smith said. “That’s important because that’s what changes the culture. We have some programs such as autism and exercise science that are poised for national prominence. I often make the comparison for candidates, posing the question: would they rather go to an institution that is already considered a leader in a certain discipline or would they rather be a part of building a strong program. I say, if I were in your shoes, I would want to come here. We need you. And, we have been successful in getting those people.”

The PROMISE grant – $35.7 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education – pays for summer work experiences aimed at improving the career and education outcomes of Arkansas teenagers with disabilities who receive Social Security Income.

“PROMISE is a wonderful thing we were able to accomplish because we had time to establish a team from our college and state agencies to write the grant,” Smith said. “It was – and continues to be – a group effort with many people working in their areas of expertise to make this program work to help kids with disabilities.”

The most difficult part of being dean is not having sufficient resources to support all the programs and initiatives that could be successful, he said.

“I enjoyed working with donors and foundations,” he said. “Getting the dean’s chair endowed was a good thing to do because it will help us attract more high-quality individuals to the position.”

The college announced the Henry G. Hotz Dean’s Chair last summer, funded by Palmer and Marie Hotz of Foster City, California, and the Walton Family Foundation. The college has received numerous other gifts during Smith’s tenure, including the teacher-education scholarship created by James Patterson, the world’s best-selling author, to promote literacy.

Smith also helped to found Deans for Impact, a national group of education deans from highly reputable institutions.

“It’s important for us to have a seat at the table with the movers and shakers of education preparation programs,” he said.

He will continue to be a member of that group.

“I think our college has also become more of a leader among the state’s teacher-preparation programs because of our involvement with the Arkansas Department of Education through the Office for Innovation in Education and other work we do with them,” Smith said.

A strong team of associate and assistant deans is backed by faculty and staff who work very hard to run the college and to serve students and the public, he said.

“I was surprised at how hard people work,” Smith said. “The staff make the college go. They work long hours and they eat lunch at their desks. This place wouldn’t run if it weren’t for them. The faculty also work very hard. They got on board and moved the college forward. I’m the point person but we have to have everyone else buy in and do the work.”

Deans of all of the colleges at the U of A support each other and have a good working relationship, he said, with less of a competitive feeling about resources that he thinks exists on other campuses.

Smith returned to the faculty of the special education. He holds the rank of University Professor.

College of Education and Health Professions Highlights 2009-2015

  • $35.7 million PROMISE grant
  • Enrollment rose from 3,268 students to 5,410 students
  • Degrees awarded rose from 744 to 1,228
  • Endowment rose from $31.6 million to $48.8 million
  • Renovation of Peabody Hall
  • Construction of Epley Center for Health Professions
  • Autism Support Program
  • Arkansas Teacher Corps
  • Principal Fellows
  • Expanded study abroad
  • New academic degrees
  • STEM program at Leverett School of Innovation
  • Environmental chamber for research
  • UREC Fitness Center

spotlight on faculty scholarship

  • Preparing Teachers of Color to Teach

    Christian Goering, co-author Sense Publishers

  • Impact of Diversity on Organization and Career Development

    Claretha Hughes, Palgrave Macmillan

  • A Differentiated Approach to the Common Core

    Lynn Koch, co-author Springer

  • Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings

    William F. McComas, co-author Arcadia

  • The School Choice Journey

    Robert Maranto, co-author Palgrave Pivot

  • American Indian Workforce Education

    Carsten Schmidtke, Routledge