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Former Liberal Arts Dean Susan Welch Dies At 78

Susan Welch, the longtime leader of Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts, died on Monday, according to the university. She was 78.

Welch led the College of the Liberal Arts from 1991 through 2019, when she stepped down to continue teaching and researching. She helped transform the college into a leading liberal arts institution while serving as one of the longest-tenured deans in university history.

“Susan was a role model, pioneer, visionary and incredible leader who helped make Penn State into the world-class university it is today,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “Her legacy is felt in countless ways — through outstanding academic programs, a robust research operation, a dramatic increase in student scholarships, investments in new centers and institutes, and an all-encompassing commitment to the importance of a liberal arts education. We are fortunate Susan devoted her time and talents to Penn State for so long, and she will be greatly missed.”

Throughout her tenure, Welch sought to expand the College of the Liberal Arts across the board. The college offered only 50 endowed scholarships when she arrived, but that number rose to more than 625 endowments offering nearly $4 million per year by the time she stepped aside. Welch also helped increase the college’s named professorships from 10 to 50 by the time she stepped down.

Welch placed an emphasis on expanding the college’s academics, too. Under her watch, the College of the Liberal Arts founded the Richards Civil War Era Center, the Rock Ethics Institute, the Child Study Center, and the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Welch also helped found the Paterno Fellows Program, which serves as the College of the Liberal Arts’ undergraduate honors program.

“It has been an honor to follow in Susan’s footsteps and build upon the foundation she helped establish during her tenure as dean,” said Clarence Lang, who succeeded Welch in 2019. “I will always be grateful for the guidance she offered to help me transition to this role, and I will always value her perspective that no public research university could ever rank itself among the nation’s greatest without having a great college of liberal arts as its heart.”

Welch and her husband, the late Alan Booth, consistently supported the university through philanthropy and endowed more than $3 million to benefit Penn State liberal arts students alone. Soon, Welch will be honored through the construction of the upcoming Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building.

“Susan understood the influential role philanthropy could play in advancing her vision for the liberal arts at Penn State, and she set a powerful and compelling example through her own generosity and through her engagement with thousands of donors — alumni and friends alike — in ensuring that vision was realized through philanthropy,” O. Richard Bundy III, Penn State vice president for development and alumni relations, said in a statement. “She was a leader in every sense of the word, and her impact at Penn State will be felt for generations to come.”

While serving as dean, Welch remained a prominent scholar within American politics. She received her doctorate from Illinois in 1970 and made her way to Penn State from Nebraska in 1991. She had nearly 200 scholarly articles, a half dozen books, and a few textbooks under her belt and was once named one of her generation’s most cited scholars in political science.

Welch’s family will privately gather to celebrate her life. The College of the Liberal Arts, meanwhile, plans to host a campus celebration to honor Welch in the near future. In a release, Penn State said those seeking to honor Welch’s memory can make contributions to the Dean Susan Welch Centennial Graduate Endowment, the Delbert F. and Marie S. Welch Graduate Student Award, or the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship in College of the Liberal Arts.

“I’ve come to love Penn State. I came here because it had aspirations to become a great university, and I wanted to be part of that,” Welch told Onward State in 2019. “It’s just a great place, and I’ve never regretted that I came here.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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