Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi today named Professor Susan B. Kaiser as the interim dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, effective July 1.
Kaiser joined the UC Davis Division of Textiles and Clothing in 1980, and over the years her interdisciplinary approach to scholarship has enabled her to foster bridges across the campus. She’s been a member of the Women and Gender Studies Program for two decades (director in 2008-09 and 2013-14) and is also affiliated with the Department of Sociology. She spearheaded the establishment of the Science and Society Program and co-founded the Cultural Studies Graduate Group.
“I am absolutely thrilled that Susan has agreed to assume the interim dean position,” the chancellor said. “Susan is a respected scholar, skilled educator, dedicated mentor, strong leader and overall wonderful individual. I am looking forward to working with her in this position and am confident she will help us further advance the excellence of both HArCS and the university as a whole.”
Kaiser has been honored as an outstanding mentor (by the UC Davis Women and Research Consortium) and has held administrative roles, as an associate dean in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (home of textiles and clothing) from 1991 to 1996, and as the Division of Textiles and Clothing chair from 2000 to 2006.
Now she is taking on another leadership role in the College of Letters and Science, in HArCS, which houses women and gender studies. HArCS is one of three divisions in the college.
“We are delighted to have a proven leader to turn to for this assignment,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said. “Susan is a wonderful example of our interdisciplinary strength, and we are delighted that she has agreed to serve in this important role during this period of transition.”
Kaiser follows Jessie Ann Owens in the dean’s office. Owens announced in December that she would step down at the end of this academic year after eight years as the HArCS leader.
“It will be an honor to serve the faculty, staff and students in Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies,” Kaiser said. “The scholarship and teaching in HArCS are superb, as are the faculty, students and staff I have gotten to know over the years.”
“I especially appreciate how, at UC Davis, there is such a strong tradition of interdisciplinary research and program building; it will be exciting to work on furthering collegial collaborations within and beyond HArCS.”
She put collaboration to work in developing the Science and Society Program, during her time as an associate dean in CA&ES. “I thought there just might be an opportunity to develop something that could bridge some gaps of sorts (between faculty and students, and between the social and ‘natural’ sciences),” she recalled.
“I brought together some faculty across the college, we had larger town hall meetings and then a retreat, and jointly developed the idea of creating a general education curriculum (not a major, but, rather, classes largely for lower division students), so students could see the connections among disciplines, as necessary to address global and complex problems,” said Kaiser, who served as the program director from 1996 to 1999.
She herself developed Science and Society 1, “Critical Inquiry Into Contemporary Issues,” and was part of the teaching teams for SAS 1 and SAS 15 (“AIDS and Society”) for many years.
The program’s offerings also include “Plants and Society,” “Genetics and Society,” “Feeding the Planet: Influences on the Global Food Supply,” “Global Climate Change: Convergence of Biological, Geophysical and Social Science,” “Contemporary Leadership,” “Water and Power in Society” and “Biotechnology: A New Era, a New Struggle?”
Kaiser described a common thread in her work, in textiles and clothing and across other disciplines: “It has to do with a feminist cultural studies perspective: linking gender with other identities such as ‘race,’ ethnicity, class, sexuality and age/generation. This perspective enables the critical study of fashion, science, issues of social justice, and more.”
In textiles and clothing, she teaches “Style and Cultural Studies,” a large, general education course; and team-teaches other courses with her colleagues on the physical science side of textiles and clothing.
In women and gender studies, her courses have included “Problems in Feminist Research,” “Special Topics in Feminist Theory and Research (Fashion and Feminist Epistemologies)” and “Critical Fashion Studies.” The latter is the focus of a UC-wide working group that she organized last year with one-year funding from the UC Humanities Research Institute.
“We are continuing to collaborate and apply for external funding,” Kaiser said. “We think there is a lot of potential within the UC system for critical fashion studies, and there are significant cultural, labor and environmental issues that we believe can be addressed through interactions between northern and southern California campuses.”
She was a UC Presidential Co-Chair (with Professor Leslie Rabine) for Undergraduate Education from 2003 to 2007, developing curricula related to “Transnational Production and Consumption of Fashion” — bringing together students from an array of majors to focus on linkages among social justice, the environment and material culture.
Kaiser cited among her proudest achievements her participation with team leader Judith Newton, Kent Ono and others in developing the Cultural Studies Graduate Group. Over more than a dozen years, “it has evolved into a program with extraordinary Ph.D. students who have gone onto blaze new areas of intellectual inquiry,” she said.
Kaiser earned a Bachelor of Science degree in textiles and clothing at the University of Texas at Austin (where she was named an outstanding alumna in 2001); and a Ph.D. in textiles and clothing, with a minor in sociology, at Texas Woman’s University. She was an assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles, before coming to UC Davis.
She is a fellow and past president of the International Textile and Apparel Association, and serves on the editorial board of Fashion Theory.
She is the author of The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context, first published in 1985 and republished in 1990 and 1997, and translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean; and Fashion and Cultural Studies (2012), and has written or co-written nearly 100 articles and book chapters in the fields of textile and fashion studies, gender studies, consumer studies, cultural studies and sociology.
She has lectured across the country and around the world, for example, at the Fashion Praxis conference at the New School for Social Research, New York City (2014); the opening of Faction Politic: An Exploration of Fashion, Identity and the Body (an exhibition that she co-curated), University of Delaware at Crane Arts, Philadelphia (2011); the Fashioning Diasporas Conference, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2009); and the Uniformity Conference, Berlin (2006). And, in 2008, she gave the first talk in Cornell University’s new Lea and John Nixon Distinguished Speaker Series.