The largest academic unit of the University of Wisconsin will lose its dean June 30. Phillip Certain, dean of the College of Letters and Science, will retire from the post that he has held since 1993.
Certain, who worked for UW for 34 years after coming to Madison for graduate school when he was 22 years old, wants to spend more time with his family after being with them over the holidays. He would also like to spend some time practicing “leisure-class” sports.
“I want to take up golf … I’ve never played golf,” Certain said, holding a golf tips book that a friend gave him.
Although June will come soon enough, Certain still has much to do. Most of his remaining work will revolve around preparation for his successor, mostly consisting of budget planning for Letters and Science.
“The one big thing that is totally uninteresting to everybody has to do with how we handle our budget and how much independence and academic authority we give the academic departments and how they handle their own money,” Certain said.
Though budgetary dealings became strenuous last year after Letters and Science had to absorb a $6 million cut, Certain recalled some of the most demanding times of his career from when before he became a dean. Before becoming a dean, Certain worked for what is now known as the provost’s office in 1987, when racial unrest on campus was at a high. Certain said that minority students were unhappy with the climate on campus.
“It [was] one of the few times in my professional career where I stayed up all night working during that time to do something productive,” Certain said. His work resulted in UW’s “Madison Plan” to increase access to and retention of minority faculty, staff and students.
Certain also called his job the greatest academic job in America, for many reasons ranging from the breadth of Letters and Science, the dedication of the faculty and staff, a terrific student body and the ability to bask in other people’s accomplishments — a major component of his job, according to Certain.
Chancellor John Wiley said in a UW press release that Certain will be missed.
“As our senior dean, there are few who possess Phil’s institutional knowledge and historical perspective on the past, present and future of this university,” Wiley said, adding that Certain will be difficult to replace.
Deputy Dean of Letters and Science Mary Anne Fitzpatrick spoke of many achievements Certain should be proud of, such as all undergraduate education and freshman courses, honors programs, Integrated Liberal Studies, research on campus, and humanities both on this campus and abroad.
“Phil is a leader who cares,” she said. “He’s beloved in this organization.”
Fitzgerald also said that since Certain announced his retirement, e-mail from all over the campus, state and country from past students, coworkers and deans of other colleges has been “flooding in” to give him praise.
Though Certain has been involved with UW since he was a young man, the 60-year-old makes no plans to stay involved after retirement.
“Basically, I’ve been here since I was 22. I have no idea who I am if you take the university out of my life, but I want to find out.”