“[Good] teaching engages students about the really big issues in life in ways that are going to transform them,” Brian Conniff, Ph.D., said.
Conniff hails from central New Jersey and is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a position he has held for the past four years). Prior to The University he worked at Ohio University, where he taught college-level courses on writing and literature to prisoners. He is currently co-teaching a course called The Prison in Literature. Conniff has also worked at the University of Dayton in Ohio and at Radford University in Virginia, where he was the dean of the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences.
Conniff earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University but decided to begin his graduate studies in literature here at The University. He said that he “fell in love” with literature as a senior in high school and compared his decision to change his major in graduate school to a type of “conversion.” He ultimately earned his master’s degree from The University and his Ph.D in literature from Notre Dame. His personal history with The University extends to his parents, who lived in the area. His father even attended The University when it was run by the Christian Brothers before the Jesuits arrived in 1942. Conniff’s connection also extends to the present through his daughter Rachel, who is a senior, and his wife Julie, who is currently earning her advanced practice degree in nursing.
When asked what the best part of his job is, Conniff answered in one word: “students.”
He appreciates the Ignatian pedagogy and believes that its emphasis on personal transformation can have major effects on individual students, and, consequently, the whole of society. He holds that a student who is personally transformed for the better, with the help of a Jesuit education, can impact society in a particularly “enormous” way. This, he says, is cause for hope. As a result, he believes that teaching has the potential to make an impact far beyond the walls of the classroom.
While certainly a very deep and philosophical character, Conniff does not lack a sense of humor. He says he would like to have dinner with the novelist James Joyce, who opened his eyes to “the possibilities of literature,” and St. Ignatius, although not in the same room because St. Ignatius would probably “melt into tears because he would be looking at the sunset and sensing God’s presence, but if you could get him past that” Conniff thinks it would be a very humorous and enjoyable evening.