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Statements and Letters

AAC&U Remembers Scholar, Colleague, and Friend Eric L. Dey

November 9 , 2009

AAC&U marks with shock and grief the death of Dr. Eric L. Dey, professor and associate director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning and former professor at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan.  Dey died suddenly just before traveling to join colleagues at the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He was 47.

In addition to his many accomplishments as a leading researcher studying the ways that colleges and universities shape the experiences and lives of students and faculty, Dey played a central role in AAC&U’s national initiative, Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility.  While a professor at the University of Michigan, Dey served as the Research Director of Core Commitments overseeing the development and administration of AAC&U’s new climate survey, the Personal and Social Responsibility Inventory (PSRI). 

He also oversaw the analysis of the 2007 data collection from more than 23,000 students and 9,000 faculty and administrators at 23 Core Commitments Leadership Consortium schools.  In that capacity, Dey was also the lead author on AAC&U’s most recent publication, Civic Responsibility: What is the Campus Climate for Learning?  He also authored the next Core Commitments reports due out in early 2010, Developing a Moral Compass: What is the Campus Climate for Ethics and Academic Integrity? and Taking Seriously the Perspectives of Others:  What is the Campus Climate for Engaging Diverse Viewpoints?

A listing of Dey’s publications and academic accomplishments does not begin to capture the commitment to students’ access and success and to the educational research enterprise that characterized Dey’s life and work.  Caryn McTighe Musil, senior vice president of AAC&U, explained, “Most of us who are granted far longer professional lives than Eric’s do not touch people’s lives so directly and influence higher education so profoundly.  He leaves a legacy of research that offers a blueprint for how to create enabling college environments that open up educational opportunities for all, promote student development and learning, and raise moral questions about what it means to lead lives of personal and social responsibility.”

Dey’s untimely death cuts short a promising career marked by many achievements and honors.  In 1998, Dey was selected as one of forty “Young Leaders of the Academy” by Change magazine and received the Early Career Achievement Award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).  Importantly, Dey was also a member of the team of social scientists tapped to provide research on the educational effects of diverse student bodies; this work was foundational to the Supreme Court’s decision supporting the continuing use of affirmative action in college admissions.  “Eric Dey's untimely death is a terrible loss for all of us,” said Alexander Astin, Allan M. Cartter professor emeritus and founding director of the Higher Education Research institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.   “He was clearly one of our field's most brilliant and accomplished scholars, a gifted teacher, and a dear friend and colleague.”

Despite recent health challenges and with grace and fortitude, Dey continued to conduct groundbreaking research to the very end of his life.  When he died, among many other projects, he was working on a new moral and ethical development module for the PSRI.  While his death prevented him from completing some projects, he also left many colleagues and graduate students who will proudly build on all he taught them to continue his legacy of research contributing to a better understanding of how to organize our campuses better so students and faculty alike can thrive.

Dey—his humor, his intelligence, his keen insight, his compassion, his commitment—will be sorely missed by staff and many members of the AAC&U family.  We extend our deepest condolences to his partner, Casey White, his family and friends, and all his colleagues around the country, at the University of Michigan, and at the University of Virginia.