UC Davis Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies dean to return to scholarship

Portrait of Jessie Ann Owens
Approximately 30 percent of the current HArCS faculty have been hired since Dean Jessie Ann Owens arrived in 2006.

Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Davis, announced that she is stepping down on June 30, 2014, at the end of her eighth year of service as dean. She is the longest-serving dean in the nearly 20-year history of the division, which is part of the College of Letters and Science. A musicologist and professor of music, she will join the faculty following a year of research leave.

“I came to UC Davis in 2006, a lifelong resident of the East Coast, with no previous experience in public higher education,” Owens said. “I could never have imagined how compelling I would find the remarkable commitment to access. My favorite moment each year is commencement — knowing that so many of those graduates were the first in their family to go to college.”

Her tenure as dean is marked by many successes, of which the foremost is the recruitment of a diverse and talented cohort of faculty. Approximately 30 percent of the current faculty have been hired since Owens arrived, 40 percent of them from underrepresented groups and nearly 60 percent women. Particularly noteworthy initiatives included hires in design, English, music, Native American studies, religious studies and the University Writing Program. The success of the faculty is evident in the large numbers of prestigious national fellowships including the Guggenheim and the American Council of Learned Societies.

“I am pleased that the distinctive nature of the kinds of humanities, broadly speaking, that we do at UC Davis is attracting national attention,” Owens noted. UC Davis was invited to join the ACLS Research University Consortium and since 2011 has also received three grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities fund four collaborative projects in early modern studies, environments and societies, digital cultures and social justice.

Owens also undertook a major initiative to increase the commitment to and funding for graduate education, including advocacy that led to the establishment of the Provost’s Fellowships — 25 new, fully funded recruitment and dissertation fellowships for humanities Ph.D. programs. The new graduate group in the study of religion was also established, and this year has admitted its first class of doctoral students.

Perhaps her most tangible achievement lies in the much-needed enhancements to arts facilities on campus. Building on the historic legacy of excellence in the arts as well as on the current programs with very strong student demand, Owens developed a campus arts space plan that has led to renovations in Everson Hall, Cruess Hall and the Art Building. She also furthered the visibility of the arts by attracting significant private gifts to the division.

“I especially value my partnership and friendship with Margrit Mondavi, whose vision for the arts at UC Davis inspires me every day,” Owens said.

Two major buildings will soon be completed — the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art and the Classroom and Recital Hall. Both projects are made possible by private gifts as well as campus support.

“I am deeply grateful for Jessie Ann's service as dean. She has led the division through years that were very difficult, yet despite severe resource constraints, she kept her eye steadfastly on the highest standards of excellence, enabling our departments to hire a cohort of remarkable new faculty,” Ralph Hexter, provost, said. “She has always put the education of students — both undergraduate and graduate — first, in the true spirit of the College of Letters and Science. The Classroom and Recital Hall and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art will stand as twin testimony to her vision for the arts at UC Davis and her prowess as a fundraiser.”

Owens is an accomplished musicologist specializing in early modern music, and she looks forward to devoting time to two projects that are currently under way: a critical edition of Thomas Morley’s 1597 treatise “A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke” and a book about the representation of voice in the music of Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore.

Owens was trained as a classicist, with a major in Latin from Barnard College (bachelor’s degree); and a master’s degree in fine arts and a doctoral degree in music from Princeton. Before coming to UC Davis, she had taught at the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester) and Brandeis University, where she also served as dean of Arts and Sciences. Owens held numerous fellowships, including a long-term fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1998-1999, and a visiting fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, in 2006. She served as president of the American Musicological Society from 2000 to 2002 and as president of the Renaissance Society of America from 2002 to 2004. In 2003, she was elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2008, honorary member of the American Musicological Society.

“It has been a special privilege for me to serve as dean,” Owens said. “I am proud of how the faculty and students are inventing a new kind of humanities. There is unusual richness in the combination of humanities, arts and cultural studies, in a setting where the land-grant mission is paramount. Our faculty is collaborating with faculty across campus on issues that matter to California and to the world.”

Provost Hexter will consult broadly and early in the new year will announce a process for selecting Owens’ successor.

Media Resources

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu