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Dean Nadarajan Reflects on the Past Decade

Portrait of Gunalan Nadarajan, wearing a dark suit

Dear Stamps Community,

As I come to the close of my tenure as Dean of the school, I want you to know I am extraordinarily proud of our creative, diverse student body at the Stamps School of Art & Design. It has been a joy to see you learn and grow as designers and artists, especially during these last challenging years of the pandemic. You are to be congratulated for your tenacity and talent. 

I wanted to share some of the things the Stamps community achieved together over the past decade. It is a testimonial to the vision and commitment of the instructors, staff, students, and alumni of the Stamps Community. 

National ranking – In our strategic planning retreat in October 2012, many in our community expressed their aspiration to be recognized as one of the top schools in the country. With the outstanding work of our faculty, the excellence of our students and our graduate programs, and the commitment of our staff, our school’s ranking grew from 27th in 2012 to 8th overall and 3rd among public institutions in 2020.

Naming – We secured a $40 million gift with $32.5m from Penny and Roe Stamps and a $7.5m match from the university to rename the school the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design in September 2012. The new name enabled us to establish a distinct and recognizable identity that is today highly regarded around the country. In Fall 2022, we will proudly celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Stamps School. 

Financial stability – We started 2012 with a significant deficit but with careful planning and continued vigilance along with the diligent stewardship of our finance team we will end 2022 with a strong reserve in operating funds. This allows the new dean and the school to invest in new initiatives and weather future financial challenges. 

Curricular Changes — We completed a faculty-led revision in 2013 to create a distinct curriculum that enables student-driven opportunities combining interdisciplinary breadth and disciplinary depth. We established two new distinct graduate programs in fine art and design in 2014 that have quickly achieved national recognition and ranking. 

Strong Endowment – We have grown our school’s endowment almost 930% — from $6 million in 2012 to $56 million today, enabling us to be less tuition dependent, support more programmatic initiatives and provide more scholarships and support to our students. 

Fundraising – Our incredibly dedicated development and alumni relations team completed the last campaign raising 73% more than the previous campaign. In addition, we boosted the number of new donors (1100 more since 2012), increased the total number of endowment funds, plus increased the amount of endowed funds for student support and scholarship by 900%. 

Enrollment Improvements – The admissions and recruitment team has worked very hard to make significant strides in our applications and enrollments over the years. We have more applicants (from 450 in 2012 to almost 1200 today — a 260% increase in applicants); from more states (from 14 states mainly in 2012 to 47 states today); better selectivity – from 68% to 22%; and a more diverse student body with underrepresented minority (URM) student enrollments growing from 11% in 2012 to 19% (170% increase) today to be among the top three most diverse schools in the university.

Student Placements – Thanks to the excellent work of our career and professional development office, we have been among the top three schools in the university since 2014 with over 70% students with full time employment 6 months after graduation; and we have had several years above 80%. Our job placement rate was 45% in 2012.

Design — We have significantly built up the strength and credibility of our design area in our school, which was seriously underserved in the past. We increased the course offerings and pathways in the curriculum for students interested in design, including a new graduate program. We made 10 new faculty hires in the design area to support these new courses and establish robust design research agendas. 

NASAD Re-accreditation – In 2018, the NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) Commission on Accreditation approved the school’s application for continued membership, following an in-depth self study and site visit. The Commission commended our school for its highly enthusiastic and effective leadership team; its engaged and effective staff; its highly qualified faculty; its engaged and motivated student body; its attention to health and safety issues; and for its excellent and thorough Self Study.” Our next review will occur in 2027 – 2028.

Research – We have allocated close to $1 million (a more than ten-fold increase) in our annual operating budget since 2012 for internal research support (in research funds for faculty and students, course releases, personnel and capacity building resources). With the capable leadership of Associate Dean Jane Prophet, the school experienced a 230% increase in research grant applications, and more than a 1000% increase in research revenue (including success in high profile NSF, NEA and foundation grants).

Increased International Reach and Presence — We have systematically invested in and thus enhanced the presence of faculty in international events and activities; more specifically, our faculty have represented the school in research activities in more than 50 countries. We developed joint research programs, conferences and exhibitions in the UK, Greece, China and S. Korea and created international programmatic partnerships with more than 15 countries.

Faculty Diversity – We prioritized and improved gender diversity among tenured/​tenure-track faculty – we increased the percentage of female faculty – from 35% in 2012 to 53% today; we also made investments in gender salary equity. While we made some good progress in faculty URM diversity we lost some of these faculty to retirements and retention challenges. With the potential and budget for up to twelve new faculty hires in the next three years, the school could make significant strides in this area. 

Space Improvements — While we were not able to solve our decades-long problems of inadequate and insufficient space, we have tried to address our more immediate space challenges through repurposing and renovation. Through these efforts, we created seven new studios, two new digital fabrication facilities and two large common workspaces to support our teaching, research, and creative production. 

Technology improvements — We made significant investments and improvements in our technological capacities for teaching, research, and creative production including (as noted above) two new digital fabrication facilities, and enhancements to existing studio facilities with new equipment and resources in 3D printing, laser cutting, 2‑D printing, digital weaving, embroidery, fabric printing, ceramics fabrication, etc.

Stamps Gallery – Established in 2017 with dedicated professional staff and a significant increase in the total amount of space for exhibitions at the school, the Stamps Gallery has become a widely recognized exhibition venue; one that showcases the work of both established and emerging artists, celebrates the accomplishments of our students, serves as a resource to the university community, and engages the communities of southeast Michigan in conversations around current topics including diversity and inclusion. 

Office of Student Life – With a view to prioritizing our students’ wellbeing and success, we established the Office of Student Life in 2021. This office has quickly developed a strong strategic plan with upcoming initiatives in improving student engagement and experience, increasing student organizations, enabling student government, and enhancing professional and career development opportunities.

The search for the new dean will be completed soon and we will have new leadership at the school shortly. As we enter this new phase in our school’s development, I wish you the very best in all your future endeavors, especially to our students who will graduate in the coming weeks. I will be on leave over the next year (my first sabbatical” of sorts after 31 years in academia) and look forward to returning to the faculty to work with our amazing students. 


Guna Nadarajan