UW News

April 11, 2002

Bridges brings rich history to post

Bob Roseth & Steve Hill
News & Information

George Bridges will tell you honestly that he struggled through his first two quarters as an undergraduate at the UW in the 1970s.

“It was difficult and confusing,” he recalled recently. Well, he’s come a long way.

The person who says his undergraduate days at this institution had a profound effect on his life was recently selected dean of undergraduate education and vice provost, effective immediately and subject to approval by the Board of Regents. The appointment followed a national search, but the ultimate choice was the man who, as a youth in Seattle, thought the campus was his playground.

“I have an affinity for this campus that not many people have,” Bridges said. “That certainly doesn’t qualify me for the job, but I do feel a deep loyalty to this University and more importantly, a loyalty to UW students.”

After becoming acclimated to college level work as a freshman, Bridges began his long and successful run in academia. He has served as acting dean since July 2001. He was appointed associate dean of undergraduate education in 1998. But just as important in shaping him for his new post, Bridges says, were his experiences as an undergraduate sociology student. One experience in particular connected his academic work with a broader lesson.

After taking an interest in the sociology of prisons, Bridges began working with a professor who was conducting studies in Washington State prisons. In the course of his work in one prison, Bridges came across an inmate who grew up in the same neighborhood, was the same age, had many of the same friends, but somehow he ended up behind bars.

“That experience gave my studies in sociology a name and a face,” he said. “Rick (the inmate) was looking at spending the next 15 or 20 years in prison and I was thinking about what to do after college. That was a key turning point in my academic education; the questions and issues discussed in my classes took on wholly new meaning.”

As an administrator, Bridges has never forgotten that experience. It motivates him, he said, to make students feel welcomed here so that they have a better chance for academic and professional success.

“Some students are more prepared than others. That’s just the way it is. As a faculty member, it’s not my job to be some ultimate arbiter of knowledge or truth, but rather to enhance each student’s learning — taking them in at whatever level of preparedness, and helping them raise their level of knowledge and ability.”

His concern for the students at the UW is just one of many reasons he was the right fit for the job, according to President Richard L. McCormick.

“George brings a multitude of skills and talents to this challenging position,” McCormick said. “His long experience and commitment to the values of this institution, his passion for education and our students’ learning experiences, and his embrace of new ideas and fresh perspectives make him an ideal person to fill this critically important role. I’m very pleased this search culminated with George.”

Some of his specific goals for the job include working with the other deans and the individual colleges to “significantly expand student involvement in meaningful faculty research, scholarship, and performance.” He also wants the institution to rethink how students are prepared to live in a more global world, “particularly in light of the 9/11 events.” Bridges said he wants to work closely with the offices of student affairs and minority affairs to make sure every student, regardless of his or her background, “receives the support needed to succeed at this University.”

And finally, he said the University “must continue its pursuit of enhancing and supporting recent diversity initiatives. The composition and climate of the UW must reflect the changing character and culture of our state. Our community is best served by a UW that welcomes and supports all students and faculty in the pursuit of knowledge and deeper learning.”

Bridges joined the UW faculty in 1982 as assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1989 and full professor in 1998. In 1996, he received the institution’s highest teaching honor, the Distinguished Teaching Award.

His research focuses on the sociology of law and legal institutions. In recent years, his studies have examined the extensiveness and causes of racial discrimination in the courts. He has published five books and more than 50 articles and research reports. In 1995, he received the Washington Council on Crime and Delinquency’s Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Scholar.

In addition to receiving his bachelor’s degree at the UW, Bridges earned an MA in criminology and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.