When Dr. Carole Brandt assumed the post as Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in 1994, she became the first distaff dean in the history of SMU in any of its six degree-granting colleges. Dean Brandt has her own history of blazing trails wherever she goes. She said: "I've been the first woman in every job I've ever had." This includes seven years as Head of the Department of Theatre Arts at Penn State immediately prior to assuming her post at SMU, preceded by four years as Chair of the Department of Theater at the University of Florida in Gainesville where "she was named Theater Educator of the Year by the Florida Association for Theatre Education." (SMU Magazine, Summer 1994.) This was only one of numerous prestigious awards bestowed upon Dr. Brandt in her distinguished career. She also served as Director of the School of Drama at Illinois Wesleyan University, a small, private, Methodist university bearing some similarities to SMU, after receiving her Ph.D. in Directing from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Dr. Brandt has served in academia all of her adult life, beginning as a speech teacher and play director in several Illinois high schools. Her appointment at SMU culminated a nine-month national search to fill the position vacated by Dr. Eugene Bonelli when he retired in 1993 to become President of the Dallas Symphony Association. Dr. Brandt was selected from a field of more than 50 applicants. She said, "I wasn't planning to change jobs, but my friends saw the notice for the position and kept urging me to apply. One friend called and said, 'I've found your next job, and it's at SMU.'"

In December 2004, Carole Brandt was elected President of the National Theater Conference at their meeting in New York. She will serve a two-year term. In her capacity as President. she will work with other board members to plan two annual New York conferences and select a 'person-of-the-year,' usually a New York theater person, or recognize a regional theater or choose a promising new playwright and a senior playwright.

She considers two of her major professional achievements to be her selection for membership in the National Theater Conference and also in the College of American Theater Fellows, which holds its meetings at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Brandt serves this organization as Dean Emeritus.

I asked Dr. Brandt how working for an elite, Southern, private school like SMU differs from an egalitarian Eastern state university? She replied, "One of the joys of coming here from a large university is the fact that arts are so important to the community. That was an uphill battle at Penn State, because it is a land-grant institution (like Texas A & M) and revolved around Joe Paterno and Penn State football."

Now that she's completed ten years as Dean, Dr. Brandt is proud of her goals for the school's future: " [We have] a Master Plan that has evolved over the last six years. It was created by the faculty, with student input. It includes building a new art wing and a new dance wing, as well as renovating and re-configuring the Owen Arts Center. It also includes plans for a new endowed chair."

(The latter event already became a reality the first week in January 2005, with the announcement of the William O'Neil Distinguished Chair in Business Journalism.)

Dr. Brandt and her faculty and staff also plan to expand the Study Abroad programs in England, France, Italy, and Spain as well as to strengthen the Honors programs in each of the Meadows School's ten academic divisions and the Meadows Museum (opened in 2001) emphasizing acquisitions and expanding exhibitions. She was very involved with the Museum's planning and fundraising.

I asked Dr. Brandt what she considers her proudest accomplishment since coming to SMU. "I think working with the faculty and staff to strengthen the academic and artistic quality of the programs," she replied. "I'm lucky to do what I do; I've enjoyed it very much."

As we discussed regional differences Dr. Brandt said, "I'm still learning about Southern expressions... [such as]`That old dog won't hunt' and `He's all hat and no cattle.'"

I couldn't let the opportunity slip by to discuss her transformation from a full-figured woman to a svelte senior siren. I just had to know her secret. She said she did not follow any specific plan. "I just stopped eating anything white, and I walk an hour every day." She has kept the weight off for two-and-a-half years and added: "I'm feeling very well."

Halfway through her eleventh year as Dean, Carole Brandt continues to implement her vision for "programmatic and technological enhancements" at SMUs Meadows School of the Arts.


Key Subjects: 
Carole Brandt; Southern Methodist University, SMU, National Theater Conference
Rita Faye Smith
January 2005
Dr. Carole Brandt at SMU