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New dean to lead Harpur College

By : Rachel Coker

Donald Nieman

Donald Nieman, a historian who has been a dean at Bowling Green State University in Ohio for eight years, will be the next dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.

Nieman said he admires the college’s record of excellence, especially its commitment to undergraduate and graduate education as well as its high-quality research and creative work. “It really resonates with my values,” he said. “That’s what I think is really special about Harpur. It achieves a kind of golden mean.”

Provost Mary Ann Swain said she has heard nothing but very positive comments about Nieman’s experience, depth of knowledge about the various arts and sciences disciplines and collegial interpersonal style.

“I am confident that his intelligence, insights into the future of the liberal arts, his previous experiences as dean and his enthusiasm for the move to Binghamton will translate into leadership that serves all of the Harpur departments and programs well,” she said. “I look forward to working with him.”

Nieman, an Iowa native, is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Drake University. He earned a doctorate from Rice University in 1975. He said it was at Rice that he first found a passion for researching and teaching, for a balance between pursuing discovery and mentoring students.

Nieman acknowledged that Bowling Green does not have the breadth of research and doctoral programs found in Harpur College, but he noted that the school’s model of focused investment has allowed it to compete with the best in certain areas. And he believes the learning-centered environment for students has something in common with Binghamton’s approach.

Nieman said he also appreciates the strengths of Binghamton’s other schools, which open up possibilities for great collaborations that will benefit Harpur programs and vice versa.

Nieman held teaching positions at Kansas State University, Hunter College, Brooklyn College and Clemson University before becoming professor and chair of the History Department at Bowling Green in 1994. He was promoted to dean in 2000.
He will start work at Binghamton on July 1.

Nieman’s specialty is law and race relations and civil rights in the United States.

Most historians, he said, consider what the legal system did to African-Americans, which was horrendous. His interest has been in changing the focus to consider how African-Americans have used the legal system and broad concepts of constitutionalism to prod the system to better live up to its promises.

Nieman said this line of inquiry takes off from a poem by Langston Hughes that begins, “Let America be America again, the land it never has been yet.”

Nieman, the author of two books, has edited four others. In 1991, Oxford University Press published his book Promises to Keep: African-Americans and the Constitutional Order, 1776 to the Present. One reviewer called it the first Afrocentric history of the U.S. Constitution.

Nieman’s wife, Leigh Ann Wheeler, will join the Binghamton faculty in the fall. She specializes in U.S. women’s history.

The couple have a 5-year-old son, Brady Wheeler-Nieman.

Nieman said life as a dean and father leaves little “free” time, but he does enjoy jazz and classical music, theater (especially musicals), opera, hiking and gardening.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08