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Kean University

Kean Appoints Nationally Recognized Communication Scholar as Top Academic Leader

David S. Birdsell, Ph.D., a veteran higher education leader and esteemed political communication scholar, will serve as the new provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kean University following a comprehensive national search focused on fostering student and faculty success.

During a 35-year career at Baruch College, most recently as dean of the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Birdsell elevated the institution by creating equity for students from diverse backgrounds, raising graduation rates and generating philanthropic support for the school and its programs.

“Dr. Birdsell is a transformational leader with a record of promoting academic excellence and advancing equity for all students, which are foundational pillars for my administration,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “We are thrilled to welcome such an accomplished scholar and experienced administrator to lead our academic programs and initiatives. I look forward to working with him to create more opportunities for Kean’s students to climb higher.” 

An engaged leader on several nonprofit boards in the New York City area and beyond, Birdsell brings experience engaging with community stakeholders through his work with the United Nations Senior Staff College, the New York City Fire Department and the New York Public Library among other organizations.

“Kean has unlimited potential, and I am very excited by the opportunity to work with President Repollet to support his vision for building student and faculty success as well as expanding Kean’s role within the communities we serve,” Birdsell said. “Kean has the potential to be a statewide engine of research that benefits New Jersey and everybody who lives in the state, and that's an exciting prospect to bring to fruition over the next few years.”

Beginning August 1, Birdsell will oversee all academic programs and accreditation at Kean’s campuses in Union, Toms River, Manahawkin and Jefferson, New Jersey as well as Wenzhou, China and will play a key role in the University’s pursuit of an R2 Carnegie research designation. As provost, he also will be responsible for recruiting and mentoring the University’s faculty, as well as ensuring the University delivers on its promise of a world-class education.

“Kean is thriving under President Repollet’s leadership and vision, and I am confident that Dr. Birdsell will help us build on that success as we grow to become the state’s next research university,” said Ada Morell, chair of the Kean Board of Trustees. “With some of the best academic programs in the state and a strong research infrastructure, Kean is poised to have a statewide impact like no other higher education institution.”

James Castiglione, Ph.D., an associate professor of physics and president of the Kean Federation of Teachers, served on the search committee and said he looks forward to working with Birdsell.

“Throughout our thorough and inclusive search process, Dr. Birdsell established himself as an accomplished scholar and visionary leader with a deep respect for and understanding of traditional shared governance and its role in achieving academic excellence,” Castiglione said.

A noted scholar, Birdsell is frequently quoted by news media on issues related to political communication, particularly debates, as well as communication issues involving information technology.

With his seminal work published in 2007, Outlines of a Theory of Visual Argument, co-authored with philosopher Leo Groarke, Ph.D., Birdsell helped create the growing subfield in argumentation studies. Also among his scholarly works is the book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, co-authored with renowned scholar of political communication Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D.

Laura Bloomberg, Ph.D., dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, said she has long admired Birdsell for his contributions to public service and higher education.

“He is going to be a terrific provost,” Bloomberg said. “For years I have looked to his example for how to be a community-engaged and mission-focused leader in the field of public affairs. He sets high expectations for excellence and then is generous in mentoring others to achieve those high standards.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D., director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, echoed Bloomberg’s sentiments. “David Birdsell is an exemplary scholar, a gifted teacher and a transformative leader,” she said.

Birdsell has been dean of the Marxe School since 2006. The school graduates a higher percentage of underrepresented minorities than the majority population, a record that is unmatched in New York State. A higher education institution in The City University of New York system, Baruch has a six-year graduation rate over 70% and, like Kean, has been recognized for the social mobility of its graduates. 

“Kean’s focus on serving all students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and first-generation students, is very attractive to me because these students deserve every opportunity to succeed and have a collegiate experience that prepares them for the workforce,” Birdsell said. “Kean can be a tremendous driver of that success.”

As a campus leader, Birdsell said he focuses on communication and partnership among other priorities. “I like to be out and about, see people, and hear what's on their minds. It’s useful to find out what people want, what defines success for them and then work together on a pathway to produce those successes,” he said. 

Birdsell started at Baruch as an assistant professor of speech after graduating from the University of Maryland with a Ph.D. in public communication in 1986. Achieving the title of professor in 1999, he also served as Executive Director of Academic Programs, Interim Dean of the Marxe School of Public Affairs, and Special Assistant to the President for Institutional Effectiveness. Birdsell earned his master’s degree in speech communication and his bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Virginia.