PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As Professor of Religious Studies Thomas A. Lewis settles into a new role as interim dean of Brown University’s Graduate School for the 2022-23 academic year, he said he’s ready to embrace a “whole school” approach to enhance the excellence of graduate education at Brown.
“So much of the conversation around graduate education rightly centers on individual graduate programs, but I think we’re increasingly recognizing the importance of what happens between and around those programs,” Lewis said. “Those kinds of opportunities — like Brown’s Open Graduate Education program, in which students who are earning a Ph.D. in one discipline can pursue a master’s in another, or Research Matters, a TED-style talk for graduate students aimed at a broader audience — are some of the real ways in which a graduate school adds to what takes place in the individual departments.”
Lewis started formally as interim dean on July 1 after Andrew G. Campbell, the 15th dean of the Graduate School, stepped down after six years of leadership to return to research and teaching as a professor of medical science. Lewis now holds primary responsibility for all aspects of the Graduate School, which engages and supports nearly 2,700 students enrolled in the 51 doctoral and 32 master’s programs across Brown’s departments, centers and institutes. He will develop and implement a strategic agenda for the school, provide financial oversight and planning, oversee graduate student admission and funding, and lead the school’s staff.
An accomplished scholar and administrator, Lewis — known to most as Tal, informally — initially came to College Hill as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1990. He returned to campus in 2007 as a faculty member and has since held multiple roles across the Department of Religious Studies and Graduate School, where he has served as associate dean of academic affairs for the past six years.
That academic leadership role, combined with his engagement on a wide variety of committees and working groups — most recently, the task force on doctoral education — gave Lewis a vivid sense of what makes Brown’s graduate student experience so distinct and how to sustain its strengths well into the future, he said.
“Growth, development and even stronger academic experiences happen not because one person thinks such-and-such is a good idea, but because of conversations and ongoing engagement in collaboration among faculty, students and administrators,” Lewis said.
In addition to close partnerships on campus, Lewis said he’s committed to finding new ways to create meaningful interactions between undergraduate and graduate students.
“One of the things that's really exciting to me about graduate education at Brown is that it is not a counterweight to the undergraduates. Instead, I see a broader ecosystem where the graduate students often play a critical role as near-peer mentors for undergraduates,” he said.
As the University finalizes its plan to significantly grow its research enterprise, Lewis said nurturing those relationships will take on increased importance, and that Brown plays a vital supporting role in ensuring all students feel fully included as members of the community.
“We’ve seen great work in terms of increasingly diverse cohorts of students being recruited into our graduate programs, adding a greater diversity of perspectives to the academic experience at Brown, but diversity is only a part of what we’re focused on,” he said. “It’s equally important that students, once they arrive, encounter a truly inclusive environment.”
Prior to joining the Brown faculty, Lewis received his Ph.D. in religious studies at Stanford University and taught at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. He specializes in religious ethics and the philosophy of religion in the modern West.