CORRYVILLE - Valerie Hardcastle is trained as a philosopher with a specialty in areas such as cognitive neuropsychology.
She's an amateur bodybuilder who says she has done her last show.
That might make her an unlikely candidate to be a college dean. Yet as Hardcastle says, here she is, the new dean of the University of Cincinnati's biggest academic unit, the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.
"I always thought I'd just be a professor and teach my students," says Hardcastle, 43. "And here I am."
She came to UC from Virginia Tech, where she was associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Raised in Texas, she earned her doctoral degree in philosophy and cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego in 1994. She spent a year at UC in the late 1990s as a Taft Fellow.
Hardcastle sits now in one of the toughest spots at UC. The College of Arts and Sciences provides nearly 40 percent of the university's instructional load and touches virtually every undergraduate student during their stay. Overall enrollment included about 6,200 students last year.
UC started classes Wednesday with about 36,500 students and 4,150 freshmen on the main campus, both records.
With bigger and bigger classes expected during the next several years, the load carried by Arts and Sciences will only increase.
At the same time, Hardcastle is under the same budget-cutting mandate as every other UC department, making her job even more difficult.
"This increased enrollment this fall is putting immense demands on Arts and Sciences because those are the portal courses," UC President Nancy Zimpher says.
Hardcastle says every big university has budget constraints but controlling costs within a particular academic year doesn't allow smooth transitions.
"There's no fat here to cut," says Hardcastle, who receives $210,000 a year as dean. "When you have large budgets to cut here in a short period of time, it's impossible to do it strategically."
The other theme of Hardcastle's first year at UC will be new interdisciplinary programs, another trend throughout the university. The college is planning a neuroscience major as soon as fall 2008.
The college is also expanding its journalism offerings and will start a Media Studies program in cooperation with the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Hardcastle says.
Students also will find her in the campus recreation center working out. She says she won't do bodybuilding shows anymore but still works out nearly every day.
"I mainly just did it for a hobby," she says of the bodybuilding shows.
Hardcastle acknowledges becoming a dean is an unusual career path for philosophers.
"I think some of the traits of a good philosopher can make you a good dean," she said.
"What philosophers want to do is see the big picture. That's what deans want to do."