Dwight McBride. Photo courtesy of UIC
Being the chair of African-American studies at Northwestern University would be enough for most people—but most people are not Dwight McBride. As of Aug. 16, the openly gay administrator will leave that post to become the new dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago's ( UIC's ) College of Arts and Sciences.
McBride recently talked with Windy City Times about his past accomplishments as well as the challenges he looks forward to tackling at UIC.
Windy City Times: First of all, what will your duties encompass?
Dwight McBride: The dean is the chief academic and financial officer of the college, so I'll be involved with faculty hiring; tenure review; resource decisions; faculty and staff salaries; and curriculum decisions. [ However, ] it won't just be me doing all those things; there is a number of competent associate deans who will report to me and they'll be responsible for particular areas.
WCT: Well, you certainly won't be twiddling your thumbs.
DM: Uh, no. [ Laughs ] The twiddling stopped the day they made the announcement. I've already been on campus a few times and I've met with the current dean and associate deans. I've also begun getting into the process involving the hiring plan. However, we can't do anything until the budget formally comes out in July—but we certainly need to have some things ready to go.
WCT: What do you think your biggest challenge will be?
DM: It's going to be fundraising. There hasn't been a strong culture of development at UIC ( as it is with most public institutions ) , so what I'm excited about is that the university [ has mentioned ] the public phase of its capital campaign. It'll be a chance for the college to highlight some of the great work it does.
Also, we want to keep a very close eye on the sciences at UIC because we've lost some important people in important areas. We want to make sure we rebuild in ways that will be important to the curriculum and to the institution, in terms of people who have the potential to bring in revenue in the form of grants.
WCT: What about gay and lesbian studies at UIC?
DM: The gender and women's studies program at UIC has a strong history in terms of working with sexuality. John D'Emilio, one of the leading scholars in the country in this area, is on the faculty at UIC and directed that program with distinction for a while. We intend to remain committed to work in the area of gay and lesbian studies.
WCT: You're an openly gay African-American professor who has written such works as 'Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality.' Do you think that other people expect you to shake things up at UIC?
DM: I think that it was part of what was attractive about my candidacy. I never have been a status quo academician or administrator. Part of my job at Northwestern was to shake things up and do things differently. Inevitably, there will be some things that I'll want to look at differently and I'm going to bring a different perspective to some of the challenges, problems and opportunities at the university.
I [ look forward ] to collaborating with other area institutions in ways that make sense for us. I also want to work with the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, and to collaborate with the other deans at the other colleges at UIC to think about the most efficient ways to offer the most high-quality education to what have traditionally been the most underserved and underrepresented populations.
WCT: You've also written 'Why I Hate That I Loved Brokeback Mountain.'
DM: When you start to parody yourself, it becomes really bad. [ Laughs ]
I liked it, but I certainly had problems with it. Some of those problems speak in 'Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch.' [ 'Brokeback' ] was published in an academic journal, so I knew that the audience would've heard of my book; I felt safe making the parody in that context.
I definitely felt conflicted about the movie. Of course, I cried and had the same emotive responses you're supposed to have. But there are important reasons why that response felt manipulated—and I felt manipulated by the [ movie ] in certain ways.
WCT: I read that you're researching [ 18th-century African-American writer ] Phillis Wheatley.
DM: Yes. There was a chapter in my second book on Phillis Wheatley, and I have been interested in her since I was in undergraduate school. She's been a figure [ who ] fascinates me, and there hasn't been a good scholarly treatment of her life and her work.
WCT: Would you consider yourself an activist?
DM: I would. It's a term that I was very comfortable using to describe myself when I was in college—but it's a term that graduate school beats out of people. [ Chuckles ]
It's been about making space in my intellectual work. It's been about making space in the worlds of African-American studies and sexuality. And my administrative work has been about making space in curricula and departments for students who are doing work that they may not have been able to do five years ago. And I'll continue to make space.