Among some of the new faces to campus this fall is David Earnest, the new political science department chair.
Earnest started his new roles of chair and Odeen-Swanson distinguished professor in August.
Before coming to USD, Earnest was the associate dean at the College of Arts and Letters at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
“When I was the associate dean I was a little removed from students; I didn’t get to work with students as often as I’d like,” Earnest said. “I was looking for a job that allowed me to be an academic leader, but also allowed me to be in the daily life of students.”
Senior Anna Madsen, a political science and international studies double major, gave the final chair candidates tours of USD last spring. She said she was impressed with Earnest’s enthusiasm about working directly with undergraduate students.
“He made it clear to me that one of the reasons he was drawn to this position at USD was because he could work closely again with a wide variety of undergraduate students,” Madsen said. “Although Dr. Earnest has only been at USD for a short time now, I can tell his enthusiasm about working with students is genuine. He truly wants to help us achieve our academic and career goals, and wants to get to know us as individuals. In a department as close as ours, this was an important attribute that we wanted the new chair to have.”
As the head of the political science department, Earnest is responsible for its curriculum, supervising faculty and facilities and managing the department’s budget.
In addition to his role as an administrator, Earnest is still a full-time professor. Finding ways to manage his time has been the most challenging aspect of his new position, he said.
“One of the things I’ve learned, which probably sounds familiar to college (students), is any one of the tasks I have, I can do, but of course at any given time I have 17 or 42 of those tasks,” Earnest said. “So figuring out which one of those tasks requires my immediate attention and which ones can wait has been the biggest challenge.”
From his past administrative jobs, Earnest has learned that it takes the first year to develop an understanding of what a department needs. Before he makes any changes, he’ll meet with his staff and see what they suggest.
“I view my role very much, (as) a facilitator of that conversation,” Earnest said. “So what I will do is throw out some ideas, make some suggestions on things the department might consider and let them decide. Academic administration is very different from the business world. In the business world, if you’re the head of the unit you have the final decision and make things happen, but in universities that are lead by faculty governments, the faculty are equal partners in making decisions of how the university operates.”
Eric Jepsen, an associate professor in political science, said he has already enjoyed the perspective Earnest offers.
“I think sometimes when you’re in the middle of ‘this is the way we do things,’ it’s good to be asked why and how we do things that way,” Jepsen said. “He’s brought perspective on all sorts of things and he’s only been here a month.”
Madsen said she looks forward to seeing what Earnest brings to the department.
“This period of transition allows for new opportunities and perspectives for all of us,” Madsen said. “Although this is my final year at USD, I am looking forward to gaining a new mentor, and seeing where Dr. Earnest guides the department of political science in the coming years. As a soon-to-be (alumna), I’m excited to see how our department will grow. It’s always great to see how new faculty members supplement the existing traditions we have.”
USD offers a different pace than the previous universities Earnest has been affiliated with, he said.
“Although USD is a big place with 10,000 students here, it feels like a small place,” Earnest said. “It feels like a place that’s not crowded, there’s ample parking, it’s not rushed, it’s sort of a reflective place. It sort of makes me think of the classic perception of college — a place of contemplation, a place where we can take our time to do the work and the learning that we wish to do.”