Fippinger appointed new Dean of Faculty

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Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

Upper Division (UD) English teacher Dr. Andrew Fippinger will take over as UD Dean of Faculty next fall, as Dr. Matthew Wallenfang steps down from the position this summer and returns full time to the UD science department.

Wallenfang is ready to return to teaching four classes as opposed to only one, he said. “I had a good run in six years as the Dean of Faculty, which I’ve really enjoyed, but I love being in the classroom and I missed being in [there] full time.” 

Wallenfang is choosing to leave the position because he feels that the time is right for a transition since the pandemic is hopefully coming to a close, he said. He believes that it is healthy to have a new person take on the role of Dean of Faculty, he said. “The position of Dean of Faculty should always firmly be somebody who is a teacher first and foremost, and not an administrator,” Wallenfang said. “I think any one person being in this role for too long risks moving away from that model of the Dean of Faculty as a member of the faculty.”

The Dean of Faculty position entails working with and evaluating new faculty members, observing classes to give faculty feedback on their teaching methods, keeping the faculty updated by way of a weekly email, and dealing with situations involving faculty concerns, Wallenfang said.

Wallenfang’s favorite part of his role as the Dean of Faculty was being able to observe classes of all types of disciplines, he said. “I get to see history classes, English classes, computer science classes, and sculpture classes rather than being siloed over in Lutnick Hall, just teaching science.”

Like Wallenfang, Fippinger is most looking forward to observing classes in his new role as the Dean of Faculty, he said. In the past, he has observed classes that were taught by his colleagues in the English department, but he has rarely observed classes in other disciplines, Fippinger said. “I’m really interested to see how a Japanese teacher goes about their work differently from a biology teacher from an English teacher,” he said. “I feel like I am going to learn a tremendous amount and hopefully become a much better teacher myself.” 

Observing classes has made Wallenfang even more excited to get back into the classroom full time, he said. He has learned many new teaching techniques from visiting classes across the disciplines, Wallenfang said. “I’ve taken things from those arts classes and the history classes and the English classes and I’m excited to bring those into my biology classroom and use the same great techniques and ideas that I’ve seen from my colleagues.”

Fippinger is also looking forward to working with faculty who are new to the school, he said. “The Dean of Faculty’s role in helping shepherd new faculty into the school and helping them figure out how they fit into the school is really significant,” Fippinger said. “My Dean of Faculty [when I arrived at HM] was Dr. Levenstein, and she was a hugely important figure for me and feeling a sense of belonging at HM and feeling a real understanding of what my job is, what the limitations of it are, what my strengths are, and how I can improve.”

Wallenfang thinks that in order to be a good Dean of Faculty, a person must have both a love of teaching, as well as a love of thinking about teaching and an interest in teaching as a craft beyond the subject matter that they teach, he said. “I get the sense that Dr. Fippinger very much is that type of person who loves thinking about teaching and how to convey material and how to get students excited about things.”

Fippinger is well-liked by the faculty at the school, which is important as he will be in constant communication with them in addition to being their representative, Wallenfang said. “It’s important to have somebody who is known by most of the teachers here and is appreciated by most of the teachers here.”

During his first year as the Dean of Faculty, Fippinger does not plan to make too many changes, he said. “Next year I’ll essentially be a student of how to be Dean of Faculty, so I want to get to know how to do the job,” he said. “I want to listen to as much feedback as I can from faculty members and other Deans and slowly start to figure out ways in which I fit into the job given my own particular personality and areas that I think could use improvement.”

Fippinger believes that one difficulty about the role of Dean of Faculty is that you are in between the faculty and the administration, he said. “Ideally, in my opinion, the Dean of Faculty is working very hard to support the faculty and to push for what they need, and to help them be fully recognized and appreciated at the school, but also getting instructions from the administration that need to be communicated to the faculty,” Fippinger said.

During his time as the Dean of Faculty, Wallenfang helped the school with the transition away from Advanced Placement (AP) courses, he said. “Dr. Levenstein and I were both on the same page that the AP program, while serving many needs, didn’t serve the needs of the students or teachers or rather, we could do better,” Wallenfang said. “We have the resources and we have the talent here to teach really exciting and innovative courses that go beyond what the prescribed AP curricula are.”

Fippinger was also involved in this transition in his role as an elected faculty member of the Committee on Instruction, Wallenfang said. The Committee on Instruction is responsible for approving all new courses at the school. “All of the new courses have gone through that committee so [Dr. Fippinger] is already very familiar with the curriculum at school and some of the curricular initiatives that are going on.”

English teacher Jennifer Huang was the other elected faculty member of the Committee on Instruction and worked closely with Fippinger. “He’s really adept at this kind of work and understands in a deep way how the school works, and he has lots of ideas about how to make it better,” she said. Huang believes that Fippinger is an excellent choice for the position and that he will do a wonderful job, she said.

Wallenfang believes that his biggest accomplishment as the Dean of Faculty was the support that he gave to all of the teachers at the school during two very difficult years of the pandemic, he said. “We were all chomping at the bit to get back in-person and in the classroom and I like to think that I claimed at least a small role in setting the tone for our faculty by being excited to be here and working out the logistics of what it would look like to be back in-person.”

Fippinger admires how Wallenfang helped guide the faculty through the pandemic by making it very clear how faculty should proceed every time there was a development in the situation, he said. He hopes that he can live up to the clarity, organization, and consistency that Wallenfang provided to the faculty, Fippinger said.