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Dean’s Office

The Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University serves as the chief academic officer of the university, exercising general executive responsibility for the education programs. Contact the dean's office if you have questions about Transylvania's academic programs, requirements, or policies; student advising or a student's academic standing; or Transylvania's faculty. 

Michael Bell
Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University

Martha Billips
Associate Dean of the College for First-Year Academic Programs and Advising

Michael R. Nichols
Assistant to the Dean of the College

Diane Cansdale Pruitt
Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University

Michael J. Bell, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University

Michael Bell

“Most of the students where I have taught came from circumstances where their families gave them dreams, and they embraced those dreams. And then they got to college. What we offered them is the potential to dream larger. Not that the dreams they had were bad. We just said, ‘Here are larger dreams.’”

Michael Bell’s mother always assumed he would grow up to be the librarian in their home town of South Lawrence, Mass., and live there the rest of his days. He cheerily accepted her dream…until he was a senior in college.

After giving a presentation in class one day, the professor unexpectedly asked him to walk back to his office with him. Bell thought he was in trouble.

“I thought he was going to say, ‘Well, Mr. Bell, after three and a half years we’re not going to give you your degree after all. We’ve decided you don’t belong here.’”

Instead, the professor greeted him with a statement that changed Bell’s life. 

“You know, Mr. Bell, I think you could do my job if you wanted to. I think you could be a college professor.”

Bell was taken aback. “Nobody had ever offered me dreams like that. He never blinked once when I said I wanted to be a folklorist, which was probably the silliest thing that anyone had ever wanted to be.

Academic History
Ph.D., M.A., Folklore and Folklife,
University of Pennsylvania, l975, l971
A.B., History, Saint Joseph's University, 1968

“When my first article was published while I was still in graduate school, I sent him a copy and thanked him, saying he was in part responsible for all I had accomplished. He responded, ‘Oh, no, Michael. You’re responsible for your work. All I did was open the door.’”

That’s the role Bell believes all professors and academic administrators embrace. “We show our students the door. We open the door. And we give them the skills to walk through with confidence.”

Before coming to Transylvania in August 2013, Bell had been an administrator and faculty member at a variety of institutions: a large urban university in downtown Detroit, a respected liberal arts college in the middle of Iowa, and a number of institutions in the northeast striving to manage significant change.

As a folklorist by training, he immersed himself in each situation, seeking to understand the traditions and heritage that made each unique—but that also make all human collectives similar.

“Folklore is a discipline that studies the ways in which ordinary people preserve art to enrich and transform their lives. When you study folk traditions, when you study people making art, you are in the presence of the local. What you discover is all of the techniques, all of the genius that goes into the creation process live in small and large ways in us all. In many ways, at the level of the local, what we can’t do individually, we are able to participate in collectively through tradition.

“I’ve worked with people on auto lines. I’ve worked with people in a neighborhood bar. I did a little project with African American golfers on a public course in Philadelphia and with Morris dancers in London. In every case what amazes me is our hunger for the local, our hunger for the small community.”

At Transylvania and in Lexington, Bell has the opportunity to integrate into yet another new community. As a newcomer to Kentucky, he will probably discover a wealth of traditions that have blended to make the area culturally rich. But he also knows that the community he finds here, at its heart, may not be that unfamiliar.

“The only things I know about Kentucky are from reading Wendell Berry novels. I’m basically looking for Port William [the fictional rural town in Berry’s stories]. My goal while I’m here is to find Port William. But I also know that Berry’s descriptions of the spaces that people occupy are really no different from the spaces I’ve known.”

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