Potter, a psychologist by training, came to Rutgers last August from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, where he was the dean of the School of Social, Political and Geographic Sciences. Potter is a key figure in the development of discursive psychology, which approaches psychology through analysis of conversations, ranging from focus groups to emergency helplines.
Rutgers Today checked in with Potter in the relative summer quiet to see how he is managing all those projects.
You’ve been here about a year. What have you accomplished at SC&I so far?
I think the most significant accomplishment is the restructuring of the school’s leadership team. We now have three associate deans. Mark Aakhus is the associate dean of research; Dafna Lemish will be the new associate dean of programs, and Karen Novick is our dean of administration. Mark Aakhus and Karen Novick are long-standing Rutgers veterans; Dafna Lemish comes to us from Southern Illinois University.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
It’s been interesting to me, the sheer depth of difference between higher education in North America and higher education in the UK. The authority of deans is much greater here. And yet, there’s the way the faculty treat each other – it’s much more democratic. At the same time, there’s a centrality of rules and bylaws in the United States that you don’t see in the UK. Higher education in Britain is much more managerial, much more top-down.
What surprises have you encountered?
Considering how huge Rutgers is, the openness of the place has been surprising – and rather wonderful. Everyone I’ve come into contact with has been very welcoming and open. It has made me very optimistic about the possibilities for cooperation between disciplines and between schools.
Now that you have your senior administrators in place, what can we expect from SC&I in the next year or so?
I’d like us to think about where our research is going. Interdisciplinarity is important here. I’d like to see more research in the spaces where our disciplines – journalism and media studies, communication and information science – meet areas of health, social services and democracy. The aim is to support understanding and collaboration between SC&I and other units of the university, especially the health-related ones – the medical schools, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and the other health-focused schools. There’s a lot of pressure on the traditional health care system in the United States; it’s becoming more expensive and less equitable. As that pressure increases, the significance of family and community-based support, third-party providers, self-medication and prevention, technological and software solutions will increase. There will be a lot of new information and a lot of challenges in communicating it, and I think our school will be ready for those challenges.
Voters in the United Kingdom recently voted to leave the European Union. How do you feel about that?
Like many Britons – including, apparently, many people who voted to leave – I think it’s a terrible mistake to leave the European Union. How it happened, how so many people were influenced to vote to leave when they didn’t really understand what the EU was or how it came to be – that’s a question that intrigues me as a scholar. As an academic administrator working in the United States, I think it’s possible that Britain may face a bit of a brain drain of academic talent, and this country and our school may benefit from that brain drain.
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