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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Outgoing Dean Charles Wilson Salutes Faculty-Fueled Progress and Promise in Arts and Letters

By Tom Robinson

When Dean Charles Wilson surveys the past six years from his office atop the Batten Arts and Letters Building, he sees expansion, evolution and excellence all around him.

From Old Dominion's new Arts in the Village district, to the University's growing profile within Hampton Roads' arts and cultural community, to a vibrant campus atmosphere committed to student research, the College of Arts and Letters is thriving.

No time better, Wilson decided, to hand the keys to his office to someone else.

Wilson, on July 24, will step down as dean of the College of Arts and Letters, the largest college at Old Dominion, and return to the classroom as a professor of English.

"I always believe everything has a season," Wilson said. "When you get to the point where you think, 'OK, I've done what I can do, it's a good time for a change and to return to teaching.'"

After a sabbatical next fall, Wilson will teach English near his home at ODU's Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, a post he requested.

In a letter to the college's faculty and staff, Chandra de Silva, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said he and President John R. Broderick "tried many times to make (Wilson) change his mind, but Charles told us that he wanted to get back to his first love - teaching students in the College of Arts and Letters.

"We are fortunate that he will remain at our institution, in the college that he has led with distinction in the last six years, and give us the benefit of his experience once again in the classroom. He will inspire more generations of students with his many talents," de Silva said.

Wilson, a nationally recognized scholar of African American literature, came to Old Dominion in 1991. As a teacher and mentor, Wilson has won such University honors as the Robert L. Stern Award for excellence in teaching and the A. Rufus Tonelson Award for excellence in teaching, research and service.

A former chairman of the Department of English (2001-04), Wilson also was recognized with an Outstanding Faculty Award by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia before he joined the administration in 2006 as vice provost.

Wilson praised the "dynamic" faculty members who arrived at ODU during his tenure as dean and their enthusiastic mission to engage with the Hampton Roads community.

Additionally, he said he is proud to have supported and driven the college's commitment to interdisciplinary efforts across departments.

The shifting of research interests by faculty members over time often comes with risks, Wilson said. "Sometimes, evaluation committees don't necessarily immediately appreciate that," he said. "I've been proud to take a firm hand from time to time in celebrating those changes. Over a career, people have the right to make a shift that's not firmly grounded in where they started."

De Silva announced that Dana Heller, outgoing chair of the Department of English, will serve as interim dean for the 2016-17 academic year while the search for a new dean is ongoing. Incoming Provost Augustine Agho will conduct that search.

Wilson said he has no lack of tasks to complete in Arts and Letters before July.

They include overseeing the wide-ranging commemoration of William Shakespeare's death, "Shakespeare 400 Years After," running April 13-20, completing faculty evaluations and hiring new department chairs in English, music and art.

Wilson was pleased last year to record a special accomplishment; he established the Charles Edgar Wilson Jr. Scholarship Endowment for an undergraduate major within Arts and Letters, in anticipation of his 25th year at ODU.

"I was delighted to make that investment in our students' future as the best way to honor the work our faculty does and will continue to do for our students," Wilson said. "I think the College of Arts and Letters is strong, and I think it is poised for someone to come in who has a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm."