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Let’s Talk, Says New Faculty Chair

You might be forgiven if you mistook the subject of David Zonderman’s 1992 book, Aspirations and Anxieties. It’s not a tell-all about the ups and downs of working  in academia, but a history of factory workers in antebellum New England.

Still, as the history professor begins his two-year term as chair of the faculty, the title may sum up his feelings about the state of the academy in an era of tight budgets and tough choices.

“I have a hope and a worry,” he confides. “My worry is that we continue to see an erosion of public support for education, especially for public higher education. My hope is that we somehow get more of our political leaders to listen.”

His message is simple: “Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Zonderman wants education professionals to push back against the notion that public education has failed society.

“As a historian, I have to ask, ‘Where is your historical evidence?’ Look at the quality of our faculty, look at quality of our research discoveries, look at how many of them have been turned into inventions, look at the quality of our graduates,” he says.

He admits that the university has plenty of work to do to raise graduation rates and reduce the time to graduation. But he wants state officials to realize that increasing the financial burden on students and families isn’t a way to address those issues.

No Signature Initiative

Zonderman in his office
David Zonderman is worried by state cuts to higher education. The history professor is the new chair of the faculty.

Zonderman has outlined realistic goals for his term, rejecting the idea that he needs to champion a big-ticket initiative to be successful. More than anything, he wants to see the Faculty Senate running on all cylinders, leading to a full and healthy discussion of major university decisions – before they’re set in stone.

“I want to say to administrators, please put substantive issues on the table. Don’t just report on what you did; tell us what you’re considering and get us in on the conversation. I want to say to faculty, if the administration does this, then you need to show up. It means faculty needs to be more involved in university governance.”

Zonderman makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be part of the university’s management team, but he wants and expects to have a voice, for himself and for the faculty.

“At the end of my term, I want to be able to say that we had intense, productive debates and we really talked to the chancellor and the provost  and engaged with them on big issues and that they heard the faculty,” he says. “If the final product reflects the input of the faculty, then I’m going to be very happy.”

A native of Boston, Zonderman earned his undergraduate degree at Amherst, and his master’s and Ph.D. at Yale. He has received numerous awards for teaching, including the university’s Outstanding Extension Service Award for 2012-2013. His enthusiasm for teaching is shared by his colleagues, he says.

“Faculty members at NC State care deeply about teaching and their students. They are passionate about their research, whether it’s artistic research or cutting-edge inventions.”