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Ann Fabian: The Complete Academic



When Ann Fabian became School of Arts and Sciences dean of humanities in 2006, she decided job one was to partner with her colleagues, “enabling them to do their best work as scholars and teachers and easing some of the worry about working in a world with diminishing resources.”

So, when the art history department needed a subscription to ARTstor—an essential digital art library—Fabian says she “convinced people that this was important and possible and then worked with the department on a successful proposal to the university's Academic Excellence Fund.” 


That was one small victory. There were big ones, too. 

Mellon Grants Support the Humanities

On the march to find funding for top graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in tough economic times, Fabian and other School of Arts and Sciences deans and faculty collaborated on proposals that would bring nearly $5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Scores of outstanding students have found and will find a place at Rutgers because of grants the humanities team worked to obtain.

In 2008, Rutgers was awarded $2.8 million to support 100 doctoral students in art history, comparative literature, English, history, linguistics, and philosophy. “Mellon was looking to expand its stable of grant recipients in the humanities beyond the usual Harvard and Yale,” says Fabian. “When I learned we won the grant, I was so incredibly proud.”

Ann Fabian says the School of Arts and Sciences has top-notch administrators who are committed to excellence on every front, and she is quick to credit her colleagues—deans, faculty, and administrative support staff under the leadership of executive dean Douglas Greenberg and former acting executive dean Ziva Galili—who also worked on the various Mellon grant initiatives.

“That we succeeded in raising money from outside sources is really a tribute to the talent and dedication of our faculty and our graduate students. All I had to do was describe what my colleagues were doing,” Fabian notes.

Other Mellon successes include $1.7 million to support 10 postdoctoral fellows over the next five years in English, history, and women’s and gender studies; the first three fellows, who are being selected now, will arrive in 2011. Also, faculty in the English and history departments took the lead on securing $407,000 from Mellon to support the new interdisciplinary Rutgers British Studies Center.

Launching a New Department, Revitalizing an Old One

"There is a need for training and scholarship in Arabic and other less commonly taught languages, which Rutgers is equipped to provide. I served as the dean’s office’s chair for a great committee that got this going. Other universities are interested in what Rutgers did and are asking about it." Ann Fabian

Fabian also helped launch the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures. “There is a need for training and scholarship in Arabic and other less commonly taught languages, which Rutgers is equipped to provide. I served as the dean’s office’s chair for a great committee that got this going. Other universities are interested in what Rutgers did and are asking about it.”

Meanwhile the venerable classics department, home of Greek and Latin, was flagging after many faculty retired. “A great state university needs a great classics department. I was happy to be the person in the dean’s office who shepherded the appointment of terrific junior faculty. If an undergraduate wants to study classics, we must be able to offer that,” says Fabian.

A Teacher and a Scholar

Despite her administrative responsibilities, Fabian still has found time to teach and pursue scholarship. She has enjoyed teaching the newest undergraduates through the Byrne Family First-Year Seminar Program; last year’s class on Moby-Dick evolved into an address she gave to new Rutgers Phi Beta Kappa inductees that garnered national attention. This year she is teaching an undergraduate honors colloquium on Depression-era America. Other courses have ranged from the Civil War to P.T. Barnum to a seminar on animals. She sits on the dissertation committees of at least a dozen graduate students in history each year and currently directs two doctoral candidates.

Invited lectures take her around the nation. Fall 2010 brought the publication of her third book, The Skull Collectors, a chronicle of 19th-century naturalists who collected human skulls, which she began in 2002 under a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was elected to membership in the Society of American Historians this past March and has been a member of the council of the American Antiquarian Society for several years.

Ann Fabian’s newest book, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, released in fall 2010 by the University of Chicago Press, chronicles the odd, misguided, and at times ghoulish adventures of 19th-century skull collectors—amateur and professional naturalists who sought to establish a scientific basis for differences in the races based on skull dimensions. The book examines how these collectors obtained specimens and explores today’s efforts to respect, reclaim, and rebury the collected dead. Learn more about Skull Collectors.

In 2010, Fabian decided to relinquish her role as dean of humanities. “My first love is to be a teacher and scholar, but I’m keeping my hand in administration,” she says. She will continue to chair the Rutgers University Press Council, serve on the committee that awards internal Mellon grants to graduate students, and serve on the board of the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. In spring 2011, she will serve as acting director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity.

What’s the secret to being able to fulfill so many roles at Rutgers? “My husband is such a fantastic cook!” she jokes, adding, “I’m not being entirely facetious. I have a very supportive family.”

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