Next Dean of Arts and Humanities in the College of Letters & Science

April 15, 2021

Headshot of Sara Guyer, New Dean of UC Berkeley's Division of Arts and HumanitiesSara Guyer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been appointed the next dean of Arts and Humanities in the UC Berkeley College of Letters & Science. Having earned a master’s and a doctoral degree in rhetoric from UC Berkeley, Guyer is looking forward to her return. She also earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Warwick and a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature and European cultural studies from Brandeis University. Guyer will begin her service on September 1, 2021. 

In announcing the appointment, Chancellor Carol T. Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost A. Paul Alivisatos commended Guyer’s robust experience, talent, and dedication to academic service. “Sara has a deep understanding of our unwavering commitment to academic excellence in the context of social transformation and the importance of a strong research mission. She has a proven track record of advocating for the humanities both through fundraising and innovation.”

Indeed, Guyer has devoted her entire career to teaching, advancing, and serving the humanities. An internationally recognized scholar, she brings tremendous leadership and service experience to her role. While serving as Dorothy Puestow Draheim Professor of English and Jewish Studies, Guyer was the president of the international Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes and director of the World Humanities Report. For over a decade, she also directed the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for the Humanities. Guyer is an accomplished thought leader and active contributor in her fields, having authored two books and edited several works.

“I’m honored to serve as UC Berkeley’s next dean of Arts and Humanities,” says Guyer. “In this role, I will work collaboratively to ensure that the arts and humanities remain at the heart of the best public university in the world.”

The Arts and Humanities division of the College of Letters & Science is consistently ranked among the best in the world. The division prepares students for citizenship in a rapidly changing world and for leadership in fields that value skillful communication, critical and creative thinking, and cross-cultural knowledge. More fundamentally, the division brings faculty and students together to pursue questions about how human beings can lead meaningful lives.

“I’m sure I speak for the other members of the search advisory committee when I say how happy I am that we’ll be welcoming Sara to Berkeley as our new dean,” says Janet Broughton, executive dean of the College of Letters & Science. “She’s unusually thoughtful about the arts and humanities and deeply dedicated to the mission of public higher education. She’s a wonderful listener and really understands the importance of a collaborative academic culture.  And it’s great that this will be a homecoming for her!”

Guyer is also inspired by the division’s mission to further diversity, equity, and inclusion, and aims to “make the arts and humanities more accessible to a diverse student body and more integral to undergraduate education.” 

“Affirming the public, interdisciplinary, global, and collaborative possibilities of the arts and humanities will enhance Berkeley’s contribution to knowledge and show how standards of excellence can and should work together with a commitment to an inclusive and accessible education.”

The Arts and Humanities division is also characterized by its exemplary graduate programs, which strike a chord with Guyer. “Graduate student outcomes are key to a healthy and responsible academic system, and in the coming period, identifying strategies for graduate student success will be increasingly urgent,” she says. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she partnered with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish Engaging the Humanities, a program providing Ph.D. students with experience in non-profit, arts, and academic administration. This program includes academic-year fellowships and generates institutional partnerships with organizations both on and off-campus. Almost a decade since its inception, Engaging the Humanities continues to broaden the sphere of connection between the university and the city, as it supports graduate students in pursuit of diverse careers. 

With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, she also has also worked with universities around the world, and particularly in Africa, to develop new models for humanities research on cross-cutting themes, like Global Mental Health; Urbanism; Democracy; Labor and Migration; Climate Justice; and Translation. “I have seen how international partnerships have a transformative effect on scholars and scholarship at all career stages,” said Guyer. A natural collaborator, Guyer is keen to explore opportunities for Arts and Humanities to engage more closely with units across the university, stating, “The Arts and Humanities are not only valuable unto themselves, but also relevant to every area of the university and society because human experience and its expressions are part of every field of inquiry and profession.”

“I embrace a vision whereby Berkeley’s exceptional artists and scholars of literary and art history, film and philosophy, music and the performing arts work alongside data scientists and biochemists and economists to serve the public good through teaching and research.”

In heading back West, Guyer will be accompanied by her husband, Scott Straus. The couple actually met at Berkeley as graduate students - he also earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from UC Berkeley and is now a professor of political science. They are both eager to introduce their children Sadie (14) and Solomon (10), and their two Australian labradoodles, Magenta and Muizenberg, to the Berkeley community. 

“I will be returning to Berkeley nearly 20 years to the day from when I finished my degree,” she reflects. “I look forward to reconnecting with the people and places that have shaped me as a scholar and getting to know the departments, faculty, and students that continue to make Berkeley the extraordinary place that it is today.”