Acting Dean adds perspective

November 12th, 2021

Dr BermudezDr. José Luis Bermúdez arrived on campus Nov. 1 as Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s new Acting Dean. He plans to focus on the positives, and amplify them, as he dives into his new role.

“I want to help make it possible for everyone in this college to focus on their teaching, their research, all their service to students and to the community, with minimal obstacles and noise in the system,” says Bermúdez, who joined the Texas A&M University faculty in 2010.

He is Professor of Philosophy and the Samuel Rhea Gammon Professor of Liberal Arts, previously serving as both Associate Provost for Strategic Planning and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He replaces Dr. Lynne Opperman, Regents Professor, who had served as interim dean of the College of Dentistry since June 1.

Bermúdez was born in Colombia and completed secondary education at St. Paul’s School in London before earning his undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Cambridge. After faculty posts at Cambridge and the University of Stirling, he moved to America for faculty and director roles at Washington University in St. Louis before joining A&M.

“I’ve always been an active scholar, an active teacher, but I’ve done increasing amounts of university management and academic leadership,” Bermúdez says.

He arrived at Texas A&M as Liberal Arts Dean around the same time as President Katherine Banks, who was then Dean of Engineering. As two of the first external deans at A&M, they went through some similar experiences and challenges, he says, explaining that Banks thought it would benefit the College of Dentistry to have his perspective in a leadership role.

While philosophy and liberal arts do not have much in common with dentistry at first glance, he says a fresh perspective and previous experience in academic leadership are two strengths he brings to his new role as acting dean.  He intends to analyze issues from multiple points of view, to get a full understanding by listening and learning from everyone involved.

“I think, certainly in the first weeks here, that’s really going to be my emphasis: Trying to understand what the college is, trying to understand how different people see it,” he says. “My main qualification for being here is that I have no connection to dentistry, no history with the college. Completely fresh perspective, but a lot of experience in managing complex organizations and trying to make them work better to support academic operations.”

Bermúdez says that his overarching goal for his tenure as acting dean will be to set up for success whomever is selected for the permanent dean position. Opportunities exist for improving day-to-day operations, he says, though he emphasizes that the college’s educational programs remain as strong as ever.

“I’ve met with many of the students; I’m meeting them class by class,” he says. “The message that I have to all of them is that none of this reflects any perceived weakness or any perceived deficiency in the educational mission here. There is obviously always room for improvement and fine-tuning, but our programs here are among the jewels in the crown at A&M.”

The College of Dentistry offers fantastic professional training, with a talented student body and dedicated faculty, Bermúdez says, adding that the building blocks are here for a “really transformational dental college.”

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that Japanese film Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. I can’t remember the details but it’s about one episode being told … and then you get six different perspectives on the same episode,” he says. “A lot of what goes on when you try to make sense of a complex institution is a bit like Rashomon. The job is to piece together all these different perspectives. That involves listening very carefully to what people say and figuring out how it all fits together.”

— Caleb Vierkant