Jennifer Jahner, professor of English in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, has been named Caltech's dean of undergraduate students, effective May 15.
Jahner, who came to Caltech in 2012, has research interests that span the histories of rhetoric, law, and natural philosophy focusing on the European Middle Ages and its role in shaping contemporary understandings of rights, evidence, perception, and proof. She teaches courses on the history of gender and sexuality, Chaucer, romance, contemporary poetry and justice, and the literature of the marvelous and monstrous. She was the recipient of an Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) teaching award in 2013 and the HSS Brass Division Teaching Award in 2016.
Jahner currently serves as co-chair of the HSS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, organizes the division's Literary Dimensions seminar, and co-organizes both the James Michelin Distinguished Visitor writer-in-residence program and the Critical Intersections: Conversations on History, Race, and Science seminar series. She was given the HSS Brass Division Service Award in 2022 for her commitment to teaching and community service through work as a committee member, teacher, advisor, and editor, as well as through "her valuable mentorship of junior faculty and postdocs."
In announcing Jahner's appointment, Kevin Gilmartin, Vice President for Student Affairs and William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English, described her as "an esteemed colleague and a welcome addition to a student-focused administrative team. Her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and her understanding of individual and community well-being as a critical dimension of student success, will help guide Caltech's undergraduate academic and co-curricular support programs in the years ahead. I'm confident that current students and alumni who have benefited from Jen's remarkable care and dedication in the classroom will join me in welcoming this appointment."
As undergraduate dean, Jahner is the primary liaison and advocate for undergraduate students within campus leadership. She will oversee the undergraduate deans' office and a team of associate deans and administrative professionals who help students navigate their transition to Caltech and their educational and social experience on campus. The deans' office takes the lead in orienting incoming students and helping them understand Institute values and the importance of the honor system. She will also work to ensure that students' social and developmental needs are met through the activities, programs, and support services that are available across campus.
"The curiosity, creativity, and intellectual energy of Caltech students make this campus what it is—a singularly exciting place to learn, research, and teach," says Jahner. "I'm honored to join the Student Affairs team in its work supporting the undergraduate community. I look forward to coordinating with students, faculty, staff, and administration to ensure that our undergraduates have the resources they need to thrive academically and interpersonally, and contribute meaningfully to their communities in and beyond Caltech."
Jahner received her undergraduate degree from Western Washington University in 1998. She went on to complete her MA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005 and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012.
Jahner's first book, Literature and Law in the Era of Magna Carta (Oxford University Press, 2019), examines the grammatical and rhetorical training that informed constitutional thought in England at the beginnings of statutory law. It explores how poetry offered to law and its practitioners a powerful set of tools for articulating theories of community, belonging, obligation, and injury.
Her current book project, Arts of Conjecture: The Medieval Origins of Modern Prediction examines the underpinnings of forecasting and predictive data science as they emerge across the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Jahner will take an academic and administrative leave from Caltech for the 2023-24 academic year to work on this project as the Fletcher Jones Distinguished Fellow in British History and Culture at The Huntington Library.
With Emily Steiner and Elizabeth M. Tyler, Jahner co-edited Medieval Historical Writing: Britain and Ireland, 500–1500 (Cambridge University Press, 2019). She is also co-editor, with Ingrid Nelson, of Gender, Poetry, and the Form of Thought: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth A. Robertson (Lehigh University Press, 2022).
In announcing Jahner's appointment, Gilmartin expressed his appreciation for the support Lesley Nye has provided in her role as interim undergraduate dean. Nye, who has served as the interim dean since 2020, played an instrumental role in supporting the undergraduate community and in guiding student support services through the extraordinary challenges of a pandemic, remote learning, and the multistage return to campus residency and in-person learning. Nye will continue to serve as a leader within the undergraduate deans' office and across Student Affairs, and will temporarily return to the role of interim dean during Jahner's upcoming leave from campus for the Huntington Library fellowship.
"Lesley has been an invaluable support to myself, to the Student Affairs team, and to our undergraduate students. Our community has benefited from her expertise and leadership, and we will continue to look forward to working with Lesley and Jennifer as we continue to build on a singular commitment to helping our extraordinary undergraduate students realize their full potential at Caltech and beyond."