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George Washington University Appoints New Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean


Ben Vinson III, Latin American Historian and Vice Dean for Centers, Interdisciplinary Programs and Graduate Education at Johns Hopkins University, Selected to Lead the Largest College at GW

April 08, 2013

Latarsha Gatlin
202-994-5631; [email protected]
Michelle Sherrard
202-994-1423; [email protected]


WASHINGTON— Ben Vinson III, a renowned scholar and vice dean for Centers, Interdisciplinary Programs and Graduate Education at Johns Hopkins University, has been appointed as the new dean of the George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Vinson will begin serving in the leadership position on August 1.

A member of JHU’s faculty since 2006, Dr. Vinson is the Herbert Baxter Adams Professor of Latin American History and the former director of the Center for Africana Studies. Dr. Vinson’s expertise is in Latin American history with a focus on colonial Mexico, in particular the African presence in Mexico.  

“I am delighted that Ben Vinson has agreed to lead our oldest and largest school,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp.  “He brings to this key position a strong commitment to scholarly excellence, a deep interest in student success and a spirit of collaborative engagement -- exactly the qualities the school needs as it approaches the beginning of its third century.” 

As the dean of Columbian College, Dr. Vinson will be responsible for providing the vision and guidance to more than 40 academic departments and programs, 27 centers and institutes and over 1,000 full and part-time faculty members. Columbian College has the largest student body of any of GW’s 10 undergraduate and graduate schools with more than 5,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students enrolled.

Columbian College’s reach extends further into the sciences with the construction of the Science and Engineering Hall due for completion in 2015. The additional space in the hall will provide researchers with increased space and other resources in order to continue growing GW’s footprint within the science community. Globally, Columbian College has increased opportunities for students to engage in study abroad and exchange programs and the recent partnership with China to house a Confucius Institute at GW, which will allow for the study of Chinese language and culture, support Chinese teaching through instructional training and certification and encourage increased research in the area of China studies.

"I am deeply honored and extremely excited to join the GW community at this important juncture in the school's history,” said Dr. Vinson. “Columbian College's reputation as a world-class training ground for global leaders in the arts and sciences is a marvelous attractor for me, and I look forward
to helping cultivate the school's reputation in the years to come. These are exciting times for higher education--moments when there are deep conversations taking place about how the disciplines, the
frontiers of disciplines and interdisciplinarity are adding value and enriching modern society. Columbian College is poised to be a leader in these deliberations, and I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of
the school's journey."

Dr. Vinson has authored and co-authored several books and as well as numerous articles on the military participation of blacks in the militias, questions of labor, free-black populations in Mexico, slavery in Latin America, African-American experiences in Mexico and Afro-Mexican experiences in the United States. His current research is on the colonial Latin American caste system.

"Ben Vinson has the extraordinary qualities of vision and leadership that will be needed to lead Columbian College of Arts and Sciences,” said GW Provost Steven Lerman. “He has a great understanding of teaching and research that will continue the college's traditions of excellence in both these areas. He also has deep experience in encouraging cross-disciplinary programs of the type that will be one of the cornerstones of the university's strategic plan."  

Prior to his position at JHU, Dr. Vinson was an associate professor at Penn State University and an assistant professor at Barnard College. He has held fellowships from the Fulbright Commission; National Humanities Center; Social Science Research Council; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Ford, Rockefeller, and Mellon foundations. He received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his doctorate from Columbia University.

In the vice dean role at JHU, Dr. Vinson was an active member of the teaching faculty while leading initiatives and programs that linked departments and engaged the School of Arts and Sciences with other parts of the university. Additionally, he oversaw the school’s centers and programs, while playing a key role in the school’s strategic planning process and helping chart the future course of academic disciplines.  He also oversaw all of the graduate programs in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Gail Weiss, professor of philosophy and chair of the search committee for the dean position, said Dr. Vinson emerged as a front runner very early on in the search. “During our interviews with him both off and on campus, the entire search committee was impressed with his outstanding scholarship and strong administrative background as well as his clear passion for and commitment to academic excellence,” said Dr. Weiss. “We are very excited to welcome him to GW as our next Columbian College dean.”

Columbian College’s current dean, Peg Barratt, led the college for five years before announcing last spring her intention to return to full-time faculty status.

The Columbian College
Established in 1821 in the heart of the nation’s capital, the George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of GW’s academic units. It encompasses the School of Media and Public Affairs, the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration and more than 40 departments and programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies. The Columbian College provides the foundation for GW’s commitment to the liberal arts and a broad education for all students. An internationally recognized faculty and active partnerships with prestigious research institutions place Columbian College at the forefront in advancing policy, enhancing culture and transforming lives through research and discovery.

The George Washington University
In the heart of the nation's capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries.

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