Those who know Kansas University’s next dean of its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences say that KU should expect a good listener and someone receptive to the changing times.
Danny Anderson was named as the liberal arts dean after rising quickly through KU’s ranks, starting as an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese in 1988 and eventually becoming department chairman. He was named associate dean in the college for interdisciplinary programs and area studies centers in 2005 and vice provost for academic affairs in 2008.
In 2009, he was named as interim provost after Richard Lariviere departed for the University of Oregon.
Elizabeth Kuznesof, professor of history and director of KU’s Center of Latin American studies, said she’s known Anderson since the early 1990s.
He’s not much of a self-promoter, she said, and he often keeps a low profile.
“In spite of being somewhat low-key, he’s kind of an activist in a certain way,” Kuznesof said.
He’s been a leader in KU’s move toward “service learning.” Students in his Spanish courses went out into the community, she said, helping Hispanics fill out income tax forms and serving as translators for Spanish speakers in hospitals.
Anderson said he’s also traveled to western Kansas, in areas such as Garden City, and helped communicate with prospective Hispanic students, who often speak English, and with their families, who often don’t.
He’s worked to develop tools such as a Spanish-language Web site and has worked with a group of Hispanic leaders across the state to identify ways KU can better reach the Hispanic population.
He said he draws on the KU experiences of his two stepchildren — a stepson who graduated recently with a political science degree and a stepdaughter who’s studying geography — to stay in touch with students’ needs.
In his time away from work, Anderson said, he’s always trying new things — he recently took up guitar lessons — and he reads a lot, trying to keep up on Mexican literature as well as more contemporary fields.
Anderson’s peers say he’s recognized as a leading Mexican literature scholar in the U.S. and Mexico. He has traveled often to the country, and has visited with numerous authors. In Mexican author David Toscana’s “Dueblo por Miguel Pruneda,” there’s a KU professor named Danny Anderson who plays a role in the book — and eventually winds up getting murdered.
He got interested in Latin American culture after studying abroad in Spain — an experience he recommends for students.
“That serves as your first stepping-off point for seeing the world through a different set of eyes,” he said.
Jonathan Mayhew, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese, said Anderson is self-reflective, and doesn’t make decisions lightly.
“He uses the word ‘struggle’ a lot,” Mayhew said. “As in, ‘One thing I’ve been struggling with is ...’”
That’s an indication he’s considered all the possibilities of his decision, Mayhew said. It served him well as department chairman, when he presided over a period of high faculty retirements.
“He’s very hard-working and very fair. He handled that period well,” Mayhew said. “I’m sure he’ll have plenty of challenges as dean.”