Richard Starnes, who has been serving as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Carolina University since July 1, 2012, has a new title at the university where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees. And this title does not include the word “interim.” Starnes, an associate professor of history and former head of WCU’s Department of History, was announced as permanent dean of the College of Arts and Sciences by Provost Angi Brenton on Wednesday, Feb. 20. The appointment is pending approval by the WCU Board of Trustees and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors later this spring.
“I have found Richard to be a strong and capable leader over the last semester as interim dean,” Brenton said. “I look forward to working with him in his permanent capacity.” The selection of Starnes follows a national search for a permanent dean of the college by a committee led by Sean O’Connell, head of the WCU Department of Biology. The College of Arts and Sciences is WCU’s largest college, consisting of 11 academic departments, nearly 200 faculty and some 2,000 students. “Richard has shown himself as interim dean to be a strong advocate for the diverse programs in the college, a strategic thinker and an effective problem solver,” Brenton said. “He came through an extremely competitive national search, and was the clear choice of the faculty, staff and students. I am confident that he will provide strong leadership for the future of WCU.”
A member of the WCU history department faculty since 2000, Starnes earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Western Carolina, in 1992 and 1994 respectively, before earning his doctorate from Auburn University in 1999. Starnes said he embraces a new leadership role in the very academic unit where he studied as an undergraduate and graduate student. “The College of Arts and Sciences is home to the disciplines at the core of a successful university,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to build on our reputation for excellent teaching and scholarship in the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.” Starnes is a historian specializing in the American South. His books include “Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina,” “Southern Journeys: Tourism, History and Culture in the Modern South” and “History and Hope in the Heart of Dixie.” He currently is writing a new history of North Carolina under contract with the University of North Carolina Press. His articles and essays have appeared in Southern Cultures, the North Carolina Historical Review and other journals. Starnes won the WCU College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award in 2008, edits the Appalachian Echoes Series at the University of Tennessee Press and serves on the North Carolina Historical Commission. The College of Arts and Sciences consists of the departments of Anthropology and Sociology; Biology; Chemistry and Physics; Communication; English; Geosciences and Natural Resources; History; Mathematics and Computer Science; Modern Foreign Languages; Philosophy and Religion; and Political Science and Public Affairs. The Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, currently housed in the College of Health and Human Sciences, will be relocated to the College of Arts and Sciences effective July 1. The College of Arts and Sciences also houses the arts and sciences interdisciplinary programs, with majors in science education, social sciences education, forensic science, environmental science and international studies). It is home to the Helen Patton Environmental Studies Center, Institute for Watershed Research and Management, Public Policy Institute, and Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center.