History department head holds many roles

Blanks visited with students at the University of Ilorin in Ilorin, Nigeria in 2010.

In Aug. 2015, Dr. David Blanks was appointed as the head of the history department at Arkansas Tech University.

Becoming a department head at a university is something that takes time and requires extensive academic experience, Blanks said.

“Universities work in either one of two ways,” Blanks said. “Either you are a department chair, which somebody is elected by your department for a fixed term, or you’re a department head, which is appointed by the administration. And that’s sort of an annually renewable contract, but it’s also generally you’re there for however long the administration wants you to be there.”

After many years of teaching and research, he was elected as chair of his department at the American University of Cairo. He worked there for nearly a decade, which helped him build his experience and get hired at Tech.

Now, Blanks teaches two history courses during the semester and a course over the summer, but he has many other responsibilities as department head. He is in charge of budget, scheduling and hiring for the history department.

“Basically, you’re just making sure that everything functions on a sort of annual cycle,” Blanks said.

He serves the university in other areas, too. He is on the museum board and the faculty welfare committee, and he is heading the recently-added diversity and inclusion initiative.

Blanks said he loves the interactive aspects of his job with students and co-workers.

Dr. David Blanks, head of the department of history, overlooks the skyline of Dubai in his travels during 2015.

“The people I work with, that’s my favorite part,” Blanks said.

Although he has only been in charge of the department for a short time, he knows which areas he would like to help grow, such as the public history program, cultural and geospatial studies, interdisciplinary studies and the new philosophy minor. Blanks said they are “trying to expand on areas where we offer something unique.”

Blanks originally hails from California, and he has dedicated a hefty portion of his life to traveling around the U.S. and living in the Middle East. He said his curiosity about how our culture has evolved is what drew him to history in the first place. According to Blanks, his travels have given him a broad range of diverse experiences, which, he believes, is important for faculty, students—everyone.

“It’s an increasingly globalized world,” he said. “The demographics of the United States are changing. Students need to be prepared to deal with difference.”

Blanks wants to encourage everyone to go on a study abroad program, take foreign language classes or take courses in regions of the past.

“I think the more international diverse experiences you have the better you’re going to be off as a job candidate, but also, the happier you’re going to be as a person.”

Blanks still intends to visit Egypt and the Middle East. He says there are plenty of beautiful places to visit, but he admits it’s much more difficult to live in the rougher conditions that he had come to know in Cairo.

Dr. Blanks said he hopes students will take part in Dr. Bowen’s new diversity and inclusion initiative, which he is chairing. This spring they will be setting up focus groups for people to express their needs in terms of diversity and inclusion on Tech’s campus.

“I hope that people feel that they can approach me and tell me their stories or, you know, what their thoughts are on that matter,” he said. “You know, when they see me on campus just come up and tell me what they think because I’m trying to understand the climate of diversity and inclusion at Tech.”

Blanks said his job is not directly related to the department of Diversity and Inclusion on campus, though. That department was set up specifically to take care of students, whereas Blanks is leading a working group that will come up with a new plan for diversity and inclusion for the entire university, including faculty and professors. He described it as more of an “administrative initiative,” trying to come up with ways in which they can help the campus’ diversity and inclusion in the long-run.