Dr. R. Devadoss Pandian honored at Commencement for 30 years of leadership in academics

Jun 22, 2015

The hundreds of faculty candidates who’ve visited campus the past 20 years typically ended their interviews in the office of R. Devadoss Pandian, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. In his fifth floor office of Old Main, they all learned about his passion for teaching—and the No. 1 qualification for working at North Central College.

“You have to teach to every student in the class and in a class of 30 or 35 students, that’s not a small thing,” says Pandian, describing the qualities of a great teacher.

His legacy at North Central, as he retires June 30, will be the careful shaping of a culture of inquiry and supportive environment for teaching and mentoring. Pandian has helped hire more than 75 percent of the faculty who will be teaching in fall 2015. He also holds the distinction as the College’s longest serving dean.

Pandian has championed collaborative research, professional development, self-governance and recognition programs like Ruge Fellows. “Teaching is always first, but he understands that the best teachers are engaged scholars with creative approaches to helping students find their own paths,” says Stephen Maynard Caliendo, professor of political science. “He has been a tireless advocate for the faculty in an effort to ensure that students get the most out of their North Central experiences.”

As a result, students and faculty have achieved at levels that have brought prestigious recognition to the College: Fulbright awards, Goldwater scholars and national conference presentations. Creating a culture that prepares students for graduate school has also been important to Pandian. “I’ve always believed that we must identify and encourage students who have the capability to pursue advanced degrees,” he says. “This country needs talented young people to do basic research and to relentlessly push the boundary of knowledge.”

Much of this excellence starts on campus with opportunities like the Summer Undergraduate Research Colloquium and the Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research—both established on Pandian’s watch and both open to all students in all disciplines. He’s also been an advocate for pursuing external grant funding, encouraging faculty to make applications as a component of the academic culture. And perhaps one of his most unique contributions to North Central was his concept of “Verandah” learning. It began when he was a professor, holding informal discussions about mathematics round campus.

“Learning is not confined to the classroom—it’s anywhere you hold a conversation with a professor,” he emphasizes. More recently, Verandah experiences have allowed students to explore cuisine, theatre, history and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago during D-Term, travel to historic civil rights sites and experience math and square dancing on campus.

Other important initiatives that he’s supported include a foreign language requirement, the Chicago Term program and a process that requires faculty to assess their own academic programs every seven years.

But he doesn’t view himself as a doer so much as a thinker who carefully listens and weighs decisions. “I think about the issues, taking time and patience,” he says.

Pandian’s thoughtful assistance over the past two and a half years during the transition to Dr. Troy Hammond’s presidency is another important legacy of his tenure. “He made sure that the transition went smoothly,” Hammond said. “It shows his dedication to the success of North Central College—and that type of commitment and dedication is truly rare.”

As for the future, Pandian will spend more time at his home in India and perhaps, get involved in public service in what he calls “the fourth quarter” of his career. He also plans to spend time in the United States with his grandchildren by visiting Boulder, Colo., where his daughter Divya ’95 teaches mathematics at the University of Colorado, and with Satyan ’93, a professor of mathematics at Williams College.

As for his legacy at North Central, Francine Navakas, Svend and Elizabeth Bramsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English, shared her thoughts. “We are fortunate to reap the benefits of the values, passion for excellence and shared governance principles that have been a cornerstone of Dev Pandian’s leadership and his profound commitment to higher education at its best.”

Career Milestones

  • M. Sc., Madras University, India, 1966
  • M. Phil, Madurai University,India, 1971
  • Ph.D., George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 1983
  • North Central College Associate Professor of Mathematics, 1985-1989; Professor of Mathematics, 1989-1995
  • Appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, 1995
  • Announced plans to step down, 2014