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Jan 15, 2016

Q&A with Dean Jie Chen of The Graduate School

A positive influence: Q&A with dean of Graduate School

  • By Katie O'Brien | contributing writer

Dr. Jie Chen
Jie Chen is the new dean of the Graduate School at JMU. Chen graduated from university in China and attended graduate school at Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. 
Picture by James Allen | The Breeze

Jie Chen is the new dean of the Graduate School at JMU. Before coming to JMU, Chen worked as the dean of the Graduate School at the University of Idaho for four years. He has also done research and written a book about the Chinese middle class called, “A Middle Class Without Democracy: Economic Growth and the Prospects for Democratization in China.” In addition he has won awards for his teaching, faculty research and administrative work, including the Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.                  

Why did you decide to become a dean?

I started the position of a dean about four years ago at the University of Idaho. When I decided to apply for the position as dean, I wanted to have a bigger positive influence on more people. Before I became dean, I was the Department Chair at Old Dominion University, so I knew what the Department Chair could do to influence the department and contribute to the community. After several years I realized, maybe I could make more contributions to a bigger community as the graduate dean of the university. I also really enjoy my administrative work and I enjoy making positive contributions to a large community such as a university, so that’s why I decided to become a dean.

Why did you decide to come to JMU?

There are several reasons. First, I think this university has great potential to become a nationally renowned university for both graduate and undergraduate education. Second, when I worked at University of Idaho, I noticed that the university and the state environment were different than Virginia. I think the Commonwealth of Virginia as a state does enjoy a better environment for higher education. Third, I knew JMU has a good reputation. I want to be closely associated with a university with a good reputation and I actually want to further help this university with its reputation. 

What do you look for when recruiting JMU graduate students?

We have recruited and will continue to recruit talented and diverse students. We do have talented graduate students here, but I would like to emphasize diversity. We probably need to make more of an effort to recruit diverse students from different socioeconomic statuses and different ethnic, racial, national and cultural backgrounds. Our current graduate students are pretty well-prepared, but we need more diversity. I think diversity has to do with our mission of the university, which is to provide students of various backgrounds with high quality education. Secondly, I think that diversity has to do with excellence. The diversity of the student body will increase the quality of the student body and enhance the quality of our graduate education by bringing in different ideas and opportunities for students and faculty.

Why do you place such a strong emphasis on research and teaching for your graduate students?

It’s not just my personal emphasis, but also the emphasis of the university. Research definitely is and should be part of the graduate education. It is actually one of the most important characteristics of the graduate education, because a graduate education is designed to help a student understand not only what is going on in the world, but also understand how research is done and how they can create knowledge through research —- not just apply knowledge. Teaching is also very important for the needs of the job market and for training. We hope that most of the students, if not all the students can have teaching experience, because some students of mine try to enter the job market and try to find a job that requires teaching responsibilities. Secondly, the teaching capability and training in teaching in graduate education can help students in many skills, such as organizational skills, communication skills and people skills.

Could you tell us a little about your research and book about the Chinese middle class?

I’ve been working on this subject for at least 10 years, and I’m still working on this subject by collecting data at the national level. My previous study was done based on regional data in five provinces in China, supported by a research grant from a national science foundation. The middle class in China has grown very fast in size and also in influence since the beginning of post-Mao reform, which started almost 30 years ago. I thought that, at the time I started my project, that the fast growing middle class would play a very important role in shaping the future of the country. I also had a question about a Western theory that suggests that the middle class anywhere should always support democracy. I am curious about this theory particularly, and if this theory is applicable to China. The first finding is that the middle class in China currently does not support the democracy by Western standard. The second finding is that the middle class currently supports the communist government. The third finding is that the middle class supports the carnal regime simply because it was created by the carnal regime and still relies on the carnal regime for its own well-being. The middle class in Western society are different from Chinese middle class, therefore many theories are developed based on the study of Western middle class are not applicable in China or to the middle class in China. The findings are different to the theories that are very popular in the West.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

As long as we work together, we can improve graduate education and achieve our common goals in graduate education. Graduate education and undergraduate education can reinforce each other at this university. 

This article was published in the JMU student newspaper, The Breeze, Thursday, January 4, 2015.  Volume 94, Volume 28, Page 4 and online.








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