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“Transformation Plan” and the School of Anthropology

In 2008 Barbara J. Mills became the seventh department head and the first woman to serve in that role. She came to the University of Arizona in 1991 as an Assistant Professor to take on the directorship of the University of Arizona Archaeological Field School. For 12 years she directed excavations and survey in east-central Arizona and established the Silver Creek Archaeological Research Project. Her research specialties include Southwest archaeology, ceramic analysis, archaeologies of inequality, migration, identity, and social memory. In addition to the Southwest she has participated in archaeological projects in Guatemala, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. Mills is currently lead PI on a large-scale NSF-funded project to incorporate ceramic and obsidian data into a macroregional database and is applying social network analysis to understand change over the period AD 1200-1550. She is active in national service and now serves as Secretary of the Society of American Archaeology.

The fall 2008 coincided not only with a downturn in Arizona's economy, but with announcement of the University of Arizona “Transformation Plan.” For many departments on campus, the UA Transformation Plan opened the door to discussion about strengthening bonds with related units through reorganization. Mills spearheaded a plan with heads and directors of the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA), Arizona State Museum (ASM), and Department of Classics to bring together faculty and programs with common interests in anthropology. Like many other proposals at the University of Arizona, a school structure was chosen because of its flexibility—it allows a diversity of programs, encourages interdisciplinarity, and can retain unit identities. After several white papers, administrative backing, and Faculty Senate and Arizona Board of Regents approval, the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona was established in July 2009 and Barbara Mills was appointed Director.

The School of Anthropology currently has 49 voting faculty in five divisions: applied anthropology/BARA, archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology. By bringing previously divided programs under a larger organizational unit, more collaboration among scholars sharing similar methods and theoretical perspectives has been enhanced and more cohesive student programs result. Several cross-cutting themes that constitute minors in the School help to integrate the divisions. Four current themes within the School of Anthropology include (1) ecological and evolutionary anthropology, (2) global health disparities, (3) applied development and public policy studies, and (4) the anthropology of history and social memory. The themes happily coincide with interdisciplinary projects in several of areas of the university’s Strategic Plan.

When Raymond Thompson stepped down as Director of the Arizona State Museum in 1997, George J. Gumerman, who earned his doctorate from the Department in 1969, became Director. The spirit of cooperation continues with new interactive arrangements among the Department, the Museum, the Southwest Center directed by Joseph C. Wilder, and other units on campus and with a renewed emphasis on Southwestern studies. Hartman Lomawaima succeeded Gumerman as Director of the Arizona State Museum until his untimely death in 2008. His Associate Director, Beth Grindell, was appointed Director. Grindell earned her doctorate from the Department of Anthropology in 1998 with a focus on Near Eastern archaeology and has been on the staff of the Arizona State Museum since 1993.

In the first national ranking of graduate departments of anthropology by the American Council on Education in 1966 and again in 1971, Arizona was ranked 12th. In 1983 and again in 1995 Arizona ranked fifth in a survey published by the National Academy of Sciences. A survey conducted under the auspices of the Society for American Archaeology and published in the SAA Bulletin in 1993 ranked the Archaeology doctoral program at the University of Arizona second in the nation. These rankings show that Anthropology at the University of Arizona, which had become one of the top ten producers of doctorates in the 1960s, is one of the premier graduate programs in the nation qualitatively as well as quantitatively.