College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Q&A: Meet Lee Cohen, New Dean of Liberal Arts

The former Texas Tech psychologist will lead university’s largest academic division beginning Aug. 1

JUNE 29, 2015 | By MICHAEL NEWSOM

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts

Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts

Dr. Lee Cohen, a professor, administrator and scholar whose research explores mechanisms that contribute to nicotine use, withdrawal and dependence, is the next dean of the University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts.

Cohen, professor and chair of Texas Tech University’s Department of Psychological Sciences before coming to UM, begins his job Aug. 1. He said he’s excited and humbled by his selection to lead the college.

“I know that the appointment of a new dean is an important decision, and I very much appreciate being given the opportunity to lead the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi,” Cohen said. “I am excited to get to work and learn all I can about the college as well as the traditions, legacies and history of Ole Miss.

“I am also very much looking forward to building upon existing relationships and forging new ones within the college and across the university and local community.”

But Cohen isn’t just a scholar. He’s also an avid runner, who has participated in the Boston, Chicago, Berlin and London marathons. He plans to run the New York marathon in November and hopes to one day run the Tokyo marathon.

His wife, Michelle, is an occupational therapist and an assistant professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The couple has three children: Ross, who is 12, Rachel, 9, and Rebecca, 3.

Cohen answered questions to help the university community get to know him better. Here’s the interview in its entirety.

Talk about your background in academia.

I am a first-generation college graduate who earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of California (at) San Diego. I subsequently attended Oklahoma State University, where I earned a Master of Science degree and a PhD in psychology. For the past 15 years, I have been a faculty member at Texas Tech University and have served in various administrative roles including director of the nationally accredited doctoral program in clinical psychology and chairperson of the Department of Psychological Sciences.

While service has been an integral part of my professional identity, I have also engaged in significant research and teaching activity. Specifically, as a scholar, I have established a programmatic research program that explores mechanisms that contribute to nicotine use, withdrawal and dependence. I am primarily interested in identifying healthy alternative behaviors that may complement current smoking cessation efforts. As a teacher, I have been fortunate to teach classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

What drew you to UM and the job as dean of the College of Liberal Arts? 

The University of Mississippi has been on my radar for quite some time. At a personal level, I have had the good fortune of interacting with individuals who are, or were, affiliated with the university in some capacity. Each of these individuals have had such outstanding things to say about the university, as well as the local community, that I could not help but think that this might be a place I would like to call “home” one day if the right opportunity presented itself.

At a professional level, the University of Mississippi has an outstanding reputation as a flagship institution that is affordable, accessible and transformative. The university has ambitious, yet obtainable goals, and it does not forget that the students are the priority in all that we do. Finally, the University of Mississippi places a profound importance on outreach to the local community, a mission which is particularly appealing to me. Ultimately, I want to be part of a university community of which I can be proud, and Ole Miss is such a place.

My motivation to serve as dean comes from the fact that I have a strong interest in helping a major university enhance its excellence. I have had success in building successful teams, and I am ambitious and like a challenge. As chair, I saw that I could do much more to advance the mission of the unit I served than I could do in any of the roles I had been in before. Building a strong team and moving my unit forward became the most exciting part of my job, and I am thrilled to be able do this at the college level, where there are so many stimulating possibilities that can transcend departmental and college boundaries.

What do you perceive to be some of the strengths of our College of Liberal Arts?

I am fortunate to be walking into what appears to be a very good situation. When I first visited the campus, I had the opportunity to meet many of the department chairs and institute directors and they appear to be a collegial group who care deeply about the individual units they serve as well as the college collectively. Further, the faculty of the college are strong, and members of the upper administration have clearly expressed their support for the college. Of course, there are numerous programs within the college that are well known nationally/internationally and are worthy of recognition, but without involvement from excellent faculty, staff and students, we cannot continue to move forward and be the very best we can be.

Another strength of the college is the diversity of disciplines represented and the potential for collaboration across academic units. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to say that I believe that an education with a strong foundation in the liberal arts is the best education our students can get, given that is helps set the foundation for understanding the human condition, creativity, innovation and invention.

These are all important things, given that it has been said that 10 years from now, many of our students will have jobs that do not currently exist. As such, being able to think critically and having a strong ability to communicate via multiple modalities will make our graduates competitive in our ever-changing world.

What about working on a college campus appeals to you?

I have always enjoyed being a student and I believe that it is largely due to the many positive experiences I had during my formal education. During graduate school, it became clear to me that my strong preference was to work on a college campus because I wanted to be a lifelong student. Additionally, I believe that college campuses are special places that radiate energy, pride and exuberance. I cannot think of another work setting where you get to experience all these positive things while you are doing your job. I really just can’t imagine working in any other setting and enjoying it as much.

Not to make you brag or put you on the spot, but what are some of the qualities you possess that you think make you an ideal leader for our College of Liberal Arts?

I believe I have effectively served in various administrative roles and have made an impact. I have an established record as a leader, professional experience managing budgets and in addressing pressing financial and resource needs. I have also worked well with members of the upper administration, serving as chair and member of various college and university committees. Additionally, as I noted earlier, I am an ambitious person who is also competitive and wants the unit I serve to be the very best it can be. Finally, in this new role, I understand that listening and problem solving are going to be critical skills to possess. Given my background in clinical psychology, these skills have been a foundation of all I do.

Talk about your vision for our College of Liberal Arts.

As dean of the College of Liberal Arts, my overall goal will be to support a sense of community within the college and across the university. I will lead, via a team-oriented approach that will encourage all faculty, students and staff to contribute in their own ways to an overall mission. Of course, for any vision to be successful, it must be a shared vision, so my initial plan is to ask the department chairs to work with the faculty in their departments to develop strategic plans that will lead to each unit being as strong as they can be. I am also quite interested in learning what our students want from their college experience and want them to have a voice in what happens as part of our academic community. The information I get from these sources will enable me to collaboratively develop a college plan that will embrace a commitment to excellence in all endeavors and across all units. I will be committed to supporting successful and new initiatives that create value within the college as well as to a college culture that values tolerance, flexibility, diversity, teamwork and inclusiveness.

Talk  about your family.

My wife, Michelle, and I have three children: Ross, 12, Rachel, 9, and Rebecca, 3. There never seems to be a dull moment in our household and the kids definitely keep us on our toes. Michelle is an occupational therapist and was most recently an assistant professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Before that, she was a therapist at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, where she specialized in working with adults with neurological conditions such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

Moving away from the professional stuff, what are your hobbies, your interests?

My family life and work consumes the vast majority of my time. This said, I enjoy supporting my kids in the many activities they are involved with and am very fortunate to have Michelle by my side to keep me grounded. This said, I start each day off with an early morning run. I ran competitively in high school and college but left the sport for about 15 years. Over the past eight years, however, I have tried to regain some of the speed I have lost over time. Realizing I would never get close to the times I ran when I was younger, I turned my interest to the marathon – a distance I never ran when I was younger. I ran my first marathon in 2008 and qualified for Boston. After running Boston in 2009 and 2010, I decided I wanted to compete in all the major marathons. I have run Boston, Chicago, Berlin and London and I plan to run New York in November. That will only leave Tokyo on my bucket list.

What is your timeline for starting?

I will be on campus in early August and plan to hit the ground running. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. I know there will be a great deal of information to absorb and the learning curve will be steep, but I very much look forward to working with new colleagues across campus.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the UM community?

I would like to take one more opportunity to express my appreciation to the many individuals who have been so incredibly supportive of me throughout the hiring process. Relocating a family is a stressful experience, but there has been an overwhelming sense of support that has made this transition as easy as it can be. Thank you and we look forward to joining you all soon!