The University of Houston recently welcomed Dr. Antonio D. Tillis as the new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and M. D. Anderson Professor in Hispanic Studies. Dr. Tillis gave the following exclusive interview to Hispanic Outlook about his life, his career and his future plans at The University of Houston:
1. What stood out about the University of Houston and its programs that made you want to become the new dean of its College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS)?
The University of Houston has a strong commitment to academic excellence, and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is an integral part of that mission. As UH’s largest and most diverse college, encompassing 14 schools and departments, the opportunity of partnering with CLASS’ dynamic faculty to offer the best, most comprehensive education for undergraduate and graduate students was certainly appealing.
In addition, living and working in the city of Houston, with its rich cultural diversity, its strong commitment to the performing arts, as well as its breadth of culinary delights made it an attractive place to reside.
2. Tell us more about your role as M. D. Anderson Professor of Hispanic Studies. What specific areas are covered in the University of Houston’s Hispanic Studies?
As an M. D. Anderson Professor of Hispanic Studies, I am able to continue my research in the areas of Latin American literature, culture and contemporary theory. This professorship supports my professional development as a scholar by providing the needed resources to travel to do archival work in Latin America and to present my work at conferences. It also provides opportunities to hire a graduate research assistant to assist with my various projects.
CLASS’ Department of Hispanic Studies offers programs for the university’s Spanish language requirement, undergraduate and graduate studies. The curriculum is quite robust and seeks to accomplish three goals: (1) To foster understanding and communication through the study of Spanish languages, literatures, linguistics and cultures in the age of globalization; (2) To provide education and training for students seeking careers drawing on or enhanced by such study; and (3) To develop established and new programs contributing to local, regional, national and international knowledge.
CLASS is the first university in the country to offer a Ph.D. program in Spanish with a concentration in Creative Writing. The degree is part of the Department of Hispanic Studies that offers Ph.D. programs with specialization on literature—Latin American, Peninsular and U.S. Latino—and linguistics.
In addition to providing underrepresented students four-year scholarships through the Academic Achievers program, CLASS’ Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) offers a Graduate Fellowship Program and a Visiting Scholars Program to recruit faculty and students interested in the advancement of the Mexican American and Latino community.
This is just a sampling of the areas covered in our Hispanic Studies program and CMAS. To have the opportunity to be a part of the Hispanic Studies department’s faculty, at this time, is quite exciting.
3. Why has diversity and world cultures and affairs been of particular interest to you throughout your career?
I have always considered myself a citizen of the world. I tell students that the world is my playground. As a result of my travels, I came to appreciate the rich cultural diversity experienced. My intellectual interest in diversity, world cultures and affairs began in graduate school. Throughout my career, each experience has been educational and transformational. As a result, I am able to view the world with a wider lens in terms of its rich ethnic, cultural, climatic, topographical and ideological diversities. There’s so much “world” to see and experience. In so, I will forever be a life-long learner, waiting for that next new cultural experience.
4. Your career has also allowed you to work with universities around in the world. Please tell us a little about some of your work abroad and in particular in Hispanic countries such as Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
To date, I have been fortunate to be able to live, work and study in a number of international locations, andI have thoroughly enjoyed each unique experience. I have held visiting faculty positions at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and the University of the West Indies at Mona (Jamaica). I have organized international conferences and presented my research at conferences in numerous Hispanic countries including Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, among others. I have done research at national libraries, archives and cultural institutes in these countries as well. Finally, I developed learning abroad opportunities for my students in many Hispanic countries.
5. What are your plans as the new dean of CLASS?
Since beginning my tenure, I have tried to learn as much as possible about the culture of UH and the diverse academic units that make up CLASS. In addition, I am engaging faculty, staff, students and other constituencies in strategic planning to fortify CLASS’ mission and vision. Also, I plan to focus on identifying ways to engage the surrounding community by creating new centers and strategic community alliances.
My long-term goals include a number of initiatives, including: increasing academic excellence and enhancing student success; offering research support for faculty; improving faculty diversity; offering professional support for staff; developing a long-term strategic plan; creating a culture of grantsmanship, as well as community, within the college; and finally, raising $60 million in fundraising as a part of the university’s $1 billion dollar campaign. Here, we go! •