Samuel Levey Named Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities

The philosophy professor begins his term July 1.

Professor of Philosophy Samuel Levey, the current chair of the Department of Philosophy, has been appointed associate dean of the faculty for arts and humanities, effective July 1, Dean of Faculty Elizabeth Smith announced this week.

"Sam is a creative scholar and a model teacher and adviser to our undergraduates who has shown dedicated service toward creating a more equitable, inclusive environment on campus," says Smith. "I look forward to his input and leadership as part of the Wentworth team."

As associate dean, appointed for a four-year term, Levey will oversee the 13 departments in the arts and humanities division and work closely with the director of the Leslie Center for the Humanities, for which he served as interim director in 2006.

"I'm glad to have the chance to give back and serve the faculty," Levey says. "I've benefited from good guidance from associate deans over the years. And as I've done more administrative work, I've become more and more aware of how key their role is in supporting faculty collectively and individually so they can be as effective as they can be."

Levey is no stranger to administrative work. In addition to serving as chair of his department, he served two terms as chair of the Committee on the Faculty, where, Smith says, "his tireless efforts in evaluating and then shepherding the sexual misconduct and Title IX process documents through our shared governance structures, resulted in ratification by a full faculty vote."

Subsequently, the faculty elected him to the Title IX Council, which hears cases related to faculty sexual and gender-based misconduct. He is serving his second term as chair.

Levey's scholarly interests are wide, but primarily concerned with metaphysics and the history and philosophy of mathematics—and especially with the work of 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a co-inventor of modern calculus.

"I dropped into being a Leibniz scholar by accident," says Levey, who joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1997.

As a graduate student at Syracuse University, he attended a seminar where he happened to learn of the existence of "a trove of untranslated Leibniz documents from when he was formulating the calculus"—a period that had been largely unknown.

"As a young, aspiring PhD student looking for a doctoral dissertation topic, to have a trove of manuscripts that turns out to hold the key to the mystery of the development of this guy's thought was a total godsend," Levey says.

"That sleuthing work was so satisfying. I like mathematical and philosophical puzzles, and here every paragraph contained some germ of an idea where, if you did the math, you could start seeing how it was solving the problems Leibniz was addressing. The manuscripts were a kind of a labyrinth, because he changed his mind all the time and annotated everything—he thought with a pen. So you sort of swim your way through the material and gradually the pieces come together."

Levey's experience with the Leibniz manuscripts changed the direction of his career. "I was all set to do contemporary work in philosophy, and the historical bug got me. And that whole package of detective work and imagination and philosophical and mathematical analysis just kept paying off. It gave me a long train of work to do that launched me from graduate school through the first several years of my time here at Dartmouth." 

He also has a side interest in the history of architecture, stemming from his undergraduate experience at the University of Colorado, which he puts to use co-teaching a humanities course on "Humanity by Design" with Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies Mark Williams.

Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has pushed all spring term courses online, the two are translating their syllabus to a remote format.

"It's a class where the magic usually happens in the classroom," he says. "That experience is hard to translate to an asynchronous, remote discussion. But we're in the early days."

One surprising benefit of remote learning: easier access to guest speakers, including authors, screenwriters, and directors from Hollywood, some of whom, like Westworld writer Suzanne Wrubel '01, are Dartmouth alumni. Williams and Levey are planning to host several, including Wrubel, via Zoom.

"Normally you can never talk to anybody in Hollywood, because they're super busy with professional commitments. But since everybody's locked down, it's more plausible to connect," Levey says.

Levey knows the pandemic may alter the trajectory of his term as associate dean.

"I think we'll find that faculty may need some different kinds of support to do their jobs. Right now it's an all-hands-on-deck effort to teach. But not everybody's scholarship can be put on pause, so it's going to be a puzzle to figure out how to support them," he says.

And, he says, "Faculty are human beings, and this period is really distressing. How people are going to be able to cope and rebound from that and feel like their work is meaningful is a big question. Associate deans are going to have a role in figuring out how to help people stay connected."

As associate dean, Levey says he plans to continue teaching. "I love being a professor—I love teaching and writing. That's central to what I want to do at Dartmouth. It matters to me that the deans are part of the faculty and that I'm part of the faculty while I'm dean."

Levey takes up the associate deanship from R. Newbury Professor of English Barbara Will, who has served in the role for the past five years.

"I want to thank Barbara for her dedicated service during the past five years," Smith says. "I am extremely grateful for her compassion, generosity, and innovation in the pursuit of the arts and humanities." 

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.