Doug Dempster to Retire as Dean of UT College of Fine Arts


Doug Dempster, dean of the University of Texas College of Fine Arts, will retire from his position at the end of 2020-21 academic year, university officials and Dempster announced today.

Dempster will maintain his faculty position. “After a long administrative career, I plan to return to my long-deferred research and teaching interests,” Dempster said in statement.

Dempster arrived at UT in 2001 and stepped into the role of dean in 2007. A philosopher by academic speciality with research interests in philosophical aesthetics, music theory, cultural policy studies and the philosophy of language, Dempster currently holds the Marie and Joseph D. Jamail Senior Regents Professorship and the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“As the second longest-serving dean in the history of the College of Fine Arts, Doug Dempster has led COFA into a forward-looking era of artistic scholarship and creative expression while nurturing the timelessness of art and performance,” said UT president Gregory Fenves in a statement. “He infused the college with an ambitious sense of possibility, sparking growth and innovation in curriculum, student services, art education, fundraising and many other critical areas.”

Dempster’s accomplishments as dean include some marquee moments like establishing Landmarks, UT’s public art program that brought major permanent artworks to the campus by James Turrell, Ann Hamilton, Sol LeWitt, Nancy Rubins, among other leading artists.

Dempster was also the steward in 2008 of the $55 million gift from Austin philanthropists Ernest and Sarah Butler to name the Butler School of Music, the largest single gift in the college’s history. And the Visual Arts Center also emerged as the Department of Art and Art History’s exhibition gallery under Dempster’s watch.

He proved powerful fundraiser too. During Dempster’s tenure, some $206 million in cash gifts and endowments were committed to the college. The college’s endowment now stands at a current market value of $170 million with additional pledged gifts of $105 million.

Dempster also launched the School of Design and Creative Technologies (SDCT) which includes the college’s first Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree program in Arts and Entertainment Technologies. The new school now has more than 500 undergraduate students, the largest undergraduate unit in the college.

However it was the expansion of the SDCT into space previously occupied by the Fine Arts Library that sparked protests in 2018, a significant dust-up for Dempster’s tenure. Faculty and students objected to the removal of library materials to an off-site location in order to make room for SDCT classrooms and offices. At times the protests grew heated. Some students and faculty members protested outside a talk Dempster delivered at South by Southwest. And in a rare move, 65 of the 100 tenured fine arts faculty members returned a vote of 55-10 in favor of a no-confidence resolution that called for Dempster to be replaced. (Non-tenured faculty were excluded from the vote.)

Prior to coming to Austin, Dempster served on the faculty at the University of Rochester for 18 years where he also served as associate director and academic dean at the Eastman School of Music.

Dempster’s last day as dean will be May 31, 2021.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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