CHASS Pays Tribute to Dean Cullenberg

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
February 3, 2015

Last quarter, over 30 speakers, faculty and staff members, and several musical guests gathered in the courtyard of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building to honor Stephen Cullenberg and his nine years of service as Dean of the College of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at UCR.

The courtyard, which Dr. Cullenberg himself played an instrumental role in designing, was lined with exotic foods and desserts from all around the world and decorated with blue and gold balloons. Musical guests included the UCR Jazz Band, Mariachi Band, Senryu Taiko, and Mayatupapi. The reception ended with an elaborate bagpipe performance by lecturer and director of the UCR Pipe Band, Ian Whitelaw.

During his tenure, Dr. Cullenberg made numerous contributions to support the students, staff, and faculty in each department of CHASS. In the theatre, film, and digital production department, he helped waive the high fees being charged for access to the university theater, allowing the fall 2014 musical to take place. One of his most notable achievements involves the establishment of the building and programming at the Culver Center for the Arts, and his ongoing support for the expansion of vital programs at ARTSblock led to $3 million in outside gifts and grants, with future program commitments now totaling several million. Dr. Cullenberg oversaw the transformation of the ethnic studies department, and recruited several key faculty members for the departments of anthropology, creative writing, and English. Since he stepped in, graduate admission numbers for the dance department have more than doubled, and the first fully online course in the UC system, “Dance: Cultures and Contexts,” was successfully launched. He helped fund several professors and graduate students in their research efforts, all while navigating through and reducing a financial crisis.

Beyond the departments, Dr. Cullenberg created a unique college culture that united students, staff, and faculty members by his support of athletics, gatherings and music on the patios, the formation of a mentoring program for new junior faculty, and the CHASS F1RST learning communities.

Eli Brown, one of two student speakers at the reception, expressed gratitude not only over the opportunity to be included in the celebration, but also to work under Dr. Cullenberg as a student writer. “Working with Dr. Cullenberg significantly improved my experience at UCR, and helped me grow as a student, professional, and person,” he said. “He taught me to be investigative and challenge myself, and that mindset is something I will carry with me at all times.”

Executive assistant to the dean, Cindi Smith, presented him with a framed Ansel Adams print of the UCR Bell Tower on behalf of the entire CHASS Dean’s Office. Chair of the creative writing department, Andrew Winer, and chair of English, Deborah Willis, presented him with a plaque signifying the establishment of the Stephen E. Cullenberg Scholarship in the Arts, which will provide student awards for undergraduate and/or graduate students in the arts. The scholarship was the CHASS faculty gift, funded by donations from faculty and staff in the college.

“It was inspired by the dean’s great enthusiasm for supporting the creative work of students and especially student musical performances  — as illustrated by the many students who performed at the reception itself and also by the regular student concerts he arranged for lunches on the Dean’s Patio,” said Willis. The fund will be administered through the CHASS Dean’s Office and students will be chosen from one or more of the following departments: art, creative writing, dance, music, and theatre, film, and digital production.

“In his dealings with faculty, Dean Cullenberg had the personal touch, and was affectionately known as ‘Dean Steve’,” said Willis. “He was unusually accessible to faculty, connecting with them as individuals, showing genuine interest in their work, and providing valuable support for particular projects. Such individualized attention is rare from administrators and it played a key role in the development of an engaged intellectual community within the college. His good humor and teasing wit combined with firm decision-making helped us get through tough times. As a result, many faculty feel his resignation as a personal loss as well as a loss to the college and university.”

When asked about the reception, Winer stated, “What we heard at the farewell reception was a loving tribute to Dean Cullenberg from chairs and program directors and faculty and friends. All of them spoke passionately with a felt sense of gratitude to a very remarkable dean. We also heard praise for Cullenberg’s demonstrated commitment to excellence in research and teaching, to his belief in making UCR into a world-class cultural and artistic institution, and to his advocacy of diversity hiring.”

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, chair of the dance department, gave a memorable speech on what many referred to as the dean’s “yes manifesto.”

“During one of the first chairs meetings I attended, Dean Cullenberg gave us all the advice ‘say yes as much as you can’,” Shea Murphy said. “It was such an inspiring and invigorating way to think about the tasks ahead of us — to say yes to making things happen. I have thought about it often and it has guided my time as chair and my approach to a lot of things in life, actually.  He was instrumental in creating an environment where it felt like things could happen, where change for the better was in the works and on the way—no mean feat at a time of retracted resources.”

Dr. Cullenberg reflected on the love and support he felt from the comments at the reception, stating, “what came through to me so clearly was all that we together in CHASS have accomplished these last eight years, despite the odds being against us.” He is now on a yearlong sabbatical, and feels blessed for the opportunity to read and write about his interests. 

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