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Remembering Former A&S Dean Joe Voelker

November 12, 2020
Submitted By: Jonathan Easterbrook
Joe Voelker headshot

Joseph Voelker, professor of English and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, died on Oct. 31. 

Voelker joined the University of Hartford in 2003 after a distinguished academic career at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where he served as a professor of English and as associate dean of the faculty.

During Voelker’s tenure as A&S dean from 2003 to 2014, he oversaw the hiring and professional advancement of 35 new, full-time faculty members. He led the faculty in revising their general education curriculum and instituted the First-Year Seminars program. He led the effort to bring the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology back to East Hall on the main campus and to reintegrate it with the Department of Psychology’s undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in psychology.

“Joe was a wonderful colleague,” recalls Provost Fred Sweitzer.  “He was equally at home discussing literature, liberal education, his backhand, and the finer points of gardening.  His sharp intellect and sense of humor made him an invaluable member of the academic leadership team.”

Voelker’s contributions on campus extended far beyond the walls of the College of Arts and Sciences. He understood the need to help orient first-time students from across the University to academic expectations and behaviors, leading him to develop the Preceptor system—a model for peer-to-peer engagement. He worked on the University's Strategic Planning Committee and served on the Integrated Science, Engineering, and Technology Committee. Voelker also was interim provost in 2007–08.

Following his retirement, Voelker stepped forward to lead the Presidents’ College and was a tenured member of the English department. Never leaving his roots as a professor, he taught Irish literature in the Presidents’ College on numerous occasions to rave reviews.

"Joe was a kind-hearted and thoughtful leader, says Katherine Black, current dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He brought high intellectual standards, sound judgment, and vitality to every situation, along with his signature ability to make people laugh. He was a wonderful mentor to me and to many others, and I will always miss him.  As I sit at the very same desk he used for close to 10 years, I hope I continue to sense his generous spirit and to learn from the lessons he taught me."

Voelker always had insightful words for the UHart community to reflect upon.

“We are all of us, at one moment or another, teachers for these students in an outside-the-classroom way,” he remarked to faculty and staff during an academic-year kickoff event in August 2007. “We have to be opportunistic … (and) should be ready to help our students grow into kind and reflective adults, to help them, if it is the right moment, to have an insight, an ‘A-HAH’ moment, to strive to be, in the words of Henry James, ‘one of those upon whom nothing is lost.’  If I had a palace, this quotation from Henry James would be carved into the wall, along with one other. John Updike is one of my favorite novelists. And my favorite sentence in all of John Updike is this: ‘We are all chords that others must strike.’ Here it is, the brink of another year of the beautiful music we all make at the University of Hartford. Let’s remember that it takes one another to create harmony.”