New dean specializes in multidisciplinary approach
June 2, 2010 |  by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson
Katherine Newman: "I look forward to making Arts and Sciences an ever-stronger partner."

Katherine Newman: "I look forward to making Arts and Sciences an ever-stronger partner." Photo: Will Kirk/

When President Ron Daniels took office last year, he expressed an intent to bring the university’s various divisions together in entrepreneurial and academic collaboration. “There’s more that we can do to knit the various parts of the university,” he told Johns Hopkins Magazine last winter. Daniels took a step toward realizing that goal when he announced Katherine S. Newman as the next James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. In an international search yielding hundreds of applications and 80 serious candidates, Newman was selected to be the next dean for her adroit research capabilities, her academic leadership, and her multidisciplinary approach. “She has been really committed to working across multiple parts of a university,” Daniels said at Newman’s formal introduction in April.

That bridge-building is evident in Newman’s career at Princeton University, where she has been a professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Sociology since 2004. In 2007, she became director of Princeton’s university-wide Institute for International and Regional Studies and founded a joint doctoral program in social policy, sociology, politics, and psychology.

“I am a firm believer in what I call the discipline-plus model. Once you have a strong grounding in the central discipline you can build a very effective platform for interdisciplinary study,” she says. “I believe students at all levels can prosper by understanding how adjacent disciplines have attacked the problem they are studying.”

Before joining Princeton, Newman spent eight years at Harvard as the first dean of social science in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. There she developed a university-wide research program in the social sciences, fostering collaboration among faculty from arts and sciences, public health, medicine, law, and education.

Her own research into the lives of the working poor and global economic mobility has yielded multiple books, including 2007’s The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, co-authored with Victor Tan Chen. She is known for broaching her topics with a combination of rigorous research, personal inquisitiveness, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Newman will join Hopkins in the fall after wrapping up research, including work on a new book about how sales tax policies in the United States can detrimentally impact the working poor. She gave up a sabbatical year to come to Baltimore and plans to resolve a year’s worth of work over the summer. “At one point I was asked by the search committee how I felt about working with high-energy people like our president and provost,” she said, referring to Daniels and Lloyd Minor. “And I asked them whether or not I appeared to be like a wallflower. And fortunately they found that there is not a petal of wallflower in me,” Newman told colleagues at the April event.

Newman says her top priorities include personal sit-downs with the 275 faculty in the Krieger School to begin the work of developing strategic plans that increase undergraduate enrollment, raise graduate stipends, and grow advanced academic programs. “Hopkins is a tremendously exciting landscape to me,” she says. “This is a unique university in the way that it integrates across the schools, across the disciplines, and I look forward to making Arts and Sciences an ever-stronger partner.”