Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science reflects on first year at CMU


Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Richard Rothaus stands in front of a bookshelf covered in faculty projects and books Sept. 17 in Anspach Hall.

After spending more than 10 hours sitting straight up for interviews and touring Central Michigan University's campus in swampy weather, Richard Rothaus's back ached. He remembers returning to his Courtyard Mariott hotel room and kicking off his shoes. Exhausted and covered in sweat, Rothaus collapsed into bed.

“I began thinking, ‘I really want this job,’ not, ‘this would be good’ or ‘I kind of want this job,’” he said. “You're never supposed to get into the mindset that you want the job because you might jinx it.” 

Rothaus was dubbed Dean of College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) on Aug. 1, 2018. More than one year later, Rothaus reflects on his first year at CMU.

“It is always scary because it's like the first year in any relationship. The first few dates were great. Now, let’s actually find out if things are true,” he said. “And they are.”

Overall, Rothaus said his expectations were exceeded. Rothaus also has high praise for President Bob Davies, who he said was like “adding two extra layers of frosting to the cake.”

“Davies’s vision is spot on. He wants to maintain core values and the things CMU has been doing right all along while growing in the areas (CMU) needs to grow,” Rothaus said. “I’m all in.”

Rothaus is focused on helping the university fight declining enrollment by attracting more non-traditional students like adults who need to further their skills.

He has his own ideas on how to improve his college. He aims to do this by continuing to hold critical engagement events, allowing Mount Pleasant residents and students to discuss important questions and topics together. This year's topic is "fake news."

"CMU is pushing to be the 'front porch of the community,'" Communications Coordinator for CLASS  Sarah Buckley said. 

While the events were started before Rothaus’s time at CMU began, he is privileged to continue them and described the situation as an "administer's dream."

As dean, Rothaus tries to be hands-off where he can, allowing faculty to foster their own events and ideas, which makes for a more dynamic college community, he said. Rothaus is also working with two-year schools and high school programs to make the transition to CMU easier for students.

"If people want to study in CLASS, we need to ask, 'What can CLASS do to help a student transition or what information is not getting to students?'" the dean said. "However, CLASS also needs to be catering to the students already on campus."

In the end, Rothaus said his number one job as dean is to make sure students are well-equipped after they graduate.

Before coming to CMU, Rothaus served as Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for the North Dakota University System. While in this role, Rothaus said he dealt with policy, procedure and programs at 11 different two-year schools and universities. 

"It gave me an interesting perspective and made me super comfortable when dealing with both academics and students,” Rothaus said. "CMU can do so much more when we aren't worrying whether something is an academic or student affair, and instead, think about the whole student experience and what we can do to improve."

When Rothaus transitioned from working in a state capital building to CMU, he transitioned from something "excruciatingly boring" to a "vibrant community experience," he said. One year later, instead of a hotel room, Rothaus returns to his home four minutes from CMU’s campus.

"CMU is a magic place," Rothaus said. "People say in enrollment videos that CMU is a welcoming community in their upbeat voices, and it's true.”