Charles “Chuck” O’Connor has announced that he will step down Jan. 3, 2022 after serving for nearly a decade as dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. He plans to return to his full-time faculty role in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
“Across a decade of leadership, Dean O’Connor has presided over an historic moment of transition in the arts. He has ushered in innovative programs and new creative spaces for emerging media arts, graphic design, music, and dance, while maintaining a deep commitment to the historical excellence of the college,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Spiller. “We are grateful for his committed service and glad he will continue to contribute to the college through his scholarship, teaching, and continued engagement.”
O’Connor began his career with Nebraska in 1993 as an assistant professor of theatre with a specialty in design and computer visualization for theatre, film and television. In 2003, he became chair and executive director of the department of theatre at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and in 2008, he accepted the position of dean at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. In 2012, he returned to Nebraska to his current post of dean.
“The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts has always had a special place in my heart,” O’Connor said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to see the transformations in our academic programs and in our students, faculty, and staff. Now, at 10 years, I feel assured that we are on track to achieve all that we set out to do. I am forever grateful to the faculty, staff, students, university leadership, and our community of supporters for the opportunity they gave me to lead this special college.”
Since becoming dean, the number of faculty and staff at the college, as well as student enrollments, have grown by nearly 15% with today’s total at 100 full-time faculty, 37 part-time faculty, 42 staff, and 879 students. Student credit hours have also increased by more than 13%. The college offers programs in art, art history and graphic design; emerging media arts; music, music education and dance; and theatre.
He was instrumental in transforming the Department of Art and Art History into the School of Art, Art History and Design with the creation of a new Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and the expansion of faculty in those programs. He oversaw the transition of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre into an academic-year program.
O’Connor has always had a passion for student success. Most recently, he launched a Student Success Center for the college. He has created new scholarships on both a college and department level, several student well-being initiatives, and a Student Emergency Support Fund that offers nearly immediate financial assistance to students at risk of leaving college.
He also has been deeply engaged in efforts of diversity and belonging. As a board member of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans and the convening dean of the Big Ten Arts Administrators’ Alliance, he has led discussions on anti-racism. A focus of his fundraising efforts were several diversity initiatives including the Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s partnership with the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre.
Under his leadership as dean, the college raised $20 million in support from the Johnny Carson Foundation as part of an overall $57 million investment by the university to create the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. In addition to this new creative space, he oversaw significant renovations to Kimball Recital Hall, Woods Hall and new dance facilities. Overall, he supported the philanthropic success for the college, with the value of all college endowments growing to over $87 million. He also championed funding in the legislative budget for a new Glenn Korff School of Music building.
An interim dean announcement will be forthcoming, and the search for the college’s next dean will be announced once a committee has been finalized.