A Matt of Many Trades

Matt Bahr, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Matt Bahr, interim Dean of College of Arts and Sciences

May 07, 2024
Gonzaga University Communications | Spirit Newsletter

Matt Bahr was the eldest of six children in his household so perhaps that is where his desire or need to lead was formed, “although I didn’t know it at the time,” says GU’s College of Arts and Sciences interim dean, who will relinquish the reins to incoming Dean Jacqueline Van Hoomissen on June 10.

The man who came to Gonzaga fresh out of graduate school at Purdue in 2004 as an assistant professor in sociology has always been a servant leader. He rose to department chair, associate dean of the College, interim dean in Health Sciences and twice interim dean of Arts and Sciences.

Although academic leadership was not his aim.

“I’m fortunate enough to have ended up in an academic career at an institution that is mission-based, which resonates with me,” Bahr says. “If I can be of help to Gonzaga in any role, I’m happy to do so. Gonzaga means a lot to me and this is where I want to stay.”

“Gonzaga is a verb,” he continues. “We have a good thing going here. The quality of people committed to Gonzaga and our mission is second to none.”

Former Arts and Sciences Dean Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak tapped Bahr as an associate dean in 2014 and over the next six years placed him where he could expand his knowledge and skills.

“She was very intentional in encouraging me to seek opportunities and supporting my development as a leader,” Bahr says.

But he couldn’t have imagined what was next.

His mentor announced her departure in 2019 and Bahr was named interim dean of the College, agreeing to serve for one year.

Then COVID-19 struck in March 2020 and the entire higher education framework was thrown into a whirlwind. He stayed on another year until he was asked to serve as interim dean in the School of Nursing and Human Physiology as the residing dean left unexpectedly right before the new academic year began.

Although a bit intimidated taking over a school he viewed as out of his wheelhouse, “I’m glad I took that position,” Bahr says. “It was my first exposure to the professional schools and I learned a lot about Gonzaga that I didn’t know. It was a smaller unit with different demands and a distinct culture. Very different from the College.”

He stayed there until Julie Wolter became dean in 2023 just as Annmarie Caño was stepping down as Arts and Sciences dean, and back into that role he rolled.

“A friend of mine asked me, ‘You know what DEAN stands for?’ I didn’t. He said, “Does Everything As Needed.”

And so it was.

University officials see him as a person who will bring stability and continuity to the operation. He knows the culture and is committed to Jesuit education.

“I have had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Bahr for the past decade or so, especially during various academic leadership transitions,” says Vice Provost Jolanta Weber. “I had no doubt his extensive experience in the College would be of great value in leading the School of Nursing and Human Physiology at the time we needed an experienced academic leader. I would be hard pressed to think of a situation where Matt has been anything other than willing to jump into a student or faculty situation that needed solving, or to take on new responsibilities when asked to do so. His calm and steady demeanor, even during challenging situations, amazes me. I have learned much from him.”

Spirit asked Bahr how faculty are different today than 20 years ago when he first joined this campus community.

“The faculty we are hiring today look like they are getting more direct preparation in their teaching skills and aptitudes to be effective teachers,” Bahr says. “This is a credit to our grad schools across the country.”

But today’s educators are not without challenges.

“Our students today have been digital natives all their lives with their smart devices and social networking. As a result, they are arriving on our doorstep and being asked to do more all the time and do it better,” Bahr says. “Our Student Affairs people are seeing this and working to prioritize mental health.”

Gonzaga is constantly providing programs and connections to strengthen its faculty’s ability to connect its students to the realities of our world today, Bahr explains. And many new programs, like the Provost’s Complex Conversations dialogues, leverage student development professionals with Gonzaga’s academic expertise to create both content and timely discussions for our students.

As for the future of higher education?

“If I had a crystal ball, I would see the College and the core curriculum providing a strong liberal arts foundation grounded in the Jesuit mission being as much a part of a Gonzaga education in 10 years, or 50 years, as it is today. It has stood the test of time.”

Bahr has stepped into every interim role he has been assigned, most often on short notice, and has kept a school moving forward. The succession of new roles has taught him many things, from academic programming, handling student academic issues and scheduling and registration, to dealing with concerned parents, space and facilities planning and budget.

He’s a jack of all dean trades.

Maybe not a born leader, if there is such a thing. But certainly, Bahr has acquired an aptitude for it.

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