Gallagher to rejoin faculty in 2020

The dean of USC Rossier decides not to seek fifth term

Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean

Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean


While leading USC Rossier’s centennial celebrations this year, Karen Symms Gallagher was contemplating her own milestone: the 20th year, in 2020, of a transformative tenure as the Emory Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean.

And she wrestled with a difficult decision: Did she want to go for 25 years?

As is customary for a USC dean approaching the final year of a five-year term, she sat down with Provost Michael Quick in January to discuss whether she wanted another term. The school’s ninth dean and first woman to hold the position, she could pursue a fifth term, unprecedented in the history of the 100-year-old school.

Over the next months, she consulted close friends and colleagues, including other education deans and higher education leaders.

Last week, at a family reunion at Western Washington University, her alma mater in Bellingham, Washington, where she was among a dozen alumni honored, she also discussed the matter with her husband, Pat Gallagher, son Sean and others she sees infrequently because of the demands of the deanship.

They helped her settle the question.

“It was unanimous,” Gallagher recounted in an interview Monday. “They said, ‘We would love to have you back.’ My son said, ‘Think about having more time to be a grandmother.’”

“Emotionally, it’s been really difficult,” she added. “But my family and colleagues of mine outside USC — other deans and presidents — I talked to all of them and decided this would be a good time to transition to the faculty to have more balance in my life.”

After accepting her decision, Quick praised her as “an innovator in her field” and “strong presence in the education profession nationally.” In a letter to Rossier faculty and staff last week, he listed a number of her achievements as dean, including the redesign of the school’s signature EdL program, the impact of the online MAT program and the launch of the Ednovate network of public charter high schools.

The process of finding her successor will take a year — another reason for announcing her decision now. The provost will appoint a faculty committee in the fall to launch a national search.

Gallagher said that announcing her decision not to seek a fifth term feels right, not only from a personal and professional standpoint, but in the context of the changes taking place at the university level: USC President-elect Carol Folt will take office on July 1.

“it’s the right time to announce [my decision],” Gallagher reflected. “Our new president is coming in, and whatever I can do to support Carol Folt I will do. She is going to be great.”

When Gallagher steps down on June 30, 2020, she will take the sabbatical offered all departing deans, and then will transition to the position of senior research faculty. She hopes to develop a program to examine the obstacles facing women aiming for leadership roles in education. “I want to look at the disconnect between who is in our programs — primarily women — and who are the principals, superintendents and community college chancellors,” she said.

And, when she steps into her new role as a member of Rossier’s faculty, she said she will continue to help the school fulfill its mission of advancing educational equity and diversity through practice, policy and research.

“I’m not done,” she said, “making a difference in education.”