Two areas in the Office of Academic Affairs that have shifted over the years – the libraries and faculty advancement – will be seeing more changes at the end of this academic year. Associate Vice Provost for University Libraries Dan Gjelten is retiring, and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement Dr. Ann Johnson is returning to the classroom in the Psychology Department.
“Dan and Ann are two people on campus who are highly respected and trusted,” Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Wendy Wyatt said. “For new people coming into each of these roles, one of the hardest things is that Ann and Dan are two very singular people who in many ways have set the standard for what these roles are. It’s sort of cliché that there will be big shoes to fill, bit it’s really true in their case.”
When Dan started as the head of reference services for the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center in December 1991, the world of information was much different than today. The focus was on print, rather than electronic books and journals. Reference staff shared a computer. The card catalog had recently moved online. With the adoption of the internet, however, a massive shift would take place.
“I’ve always felt that libraries and librarians were ahead of the curve in terms of technology,” Gjelten said. “You hear a lot of talk now about ‘the cloud.’ We were actually in a sense using cloud computing before almost anyone. The libraries at St. Thomas had one of the first webpages on campus. We saw the internet and the World Wide Web as a really rich information resource. We were early adopters of that kind of technology.”
Today, 90% of the libraries’ budget goes to electronic content, available to anyone, anytime on the St. Thomas network. High-quality, scholarly electronic collections have increased exponentially in the last three decades.
The university’s investment in technology, particularly the 2016 launch of St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) center in O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, was vital to both Gjelten and Johnson’s areas in St. Thomas’ pivot to online learning in March 2020. (Gjelten’s wife, Lisa Burke, is the director of STELAR.)
“What Ann has done in the faculty development area involved … almost this pivot on a dime to really emphasizing how we support faculty and the different modalities,” Wyatt said. “We [previously] cared about it and did some work on it, but it’s similar to the libraries in that it has seen a lot of change.”
Besides technology, Johnson has experienced many changes at St. Thomas since she started as a psychology professor in 1988. At that time, it was the College of St. Thomas, no buildings on the Minneapolis campus had been constructed yet, and all the faculty members could meet in one auditorium.
She also served as the director of the Center for Faculty Development from 2011-17 and has been associate vice provost for faculty advancement since 2017. In her most recent role, Johnson is most proud of the faculty fellows leadership program for midcareer faculty that she and Executive Vice President and Provost Richard Plumb established, as well as the duo’s collaboration on advancing faculty of color and female faculty to prepare them for administrative roles. Johnson sees a continued emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion as important for faculty advancement.
“Retaining diverse faculty requires an entire faculty effort,” Johnson said. “We’re moving into an era where much more collective self-reflection is needed as a community to move us to the kind of anti-racism and equity goals that we aspire to.”
In terms of advice for the next people stepping into their roles, both Gjelten and Johnson emphasized the importance of bringing and being open to new ideas as well as collaborating across campus.
The two expressed their gratitude to the St. Thomas community. “I’ve been honored to work with many wonderful library staff over the years – our success is due to their creativity and hard work,” Gjelten said. Apart from his main responsibilities, Gjelten played guitar for the Show’d Up Band, a music group of faculty and staff who played on campus at noon on Thursdays. He also thanked the community for its support when he and Burke were hit by a car in 2006.
Johnson thanked the many talented and committed faculty and staff members she’s worked with over the years, including Elizabeth Smith, the associate director of faculty development; the Faculty Development Center staff, including Roxanne Kendle and Liz Welsh; and Wyatt.
“The connection that [Dan] and [Ann] have to the community is illustrative of the way so many of us are connected to St. Thomas,” Wyatt said. “They represent the best of St. Thomas.”