Profile: Gabe Paquette, Clark Honors College Dean

Gabe Paquette, in front of bookshelves. Photo by Jessica Douglas, Class of ’19

Gabe Paquette is an admitted—and avid—trespasser

“Sometimes in the social sciences, people talk about trespassing from one discipline to another,” he explains with a smile, and then a sincere laugh. “I found myself as a routine sort of trespasser.” The new dean of the Clark Honors College is completely unapologetic about it; in fact, he sees this compulsion as an advantage, and one that informs the mission of his new post. “In the honors college, where you have very different disciplines coming together, you have issues in common from an array of perspectives,” he says with a genuine sense of excitement. His eyes widen, and his smile gets bigger. “It’s really unique; it’s only something you have in an honors college or a small liberal arts college.” That might have been the factor that lured him away from Johns Hopkins University, where he was professor of history and the director of the Latin American Studies Program; or it could have been that by coming to a major research university such as the University of Oregon, he could retain his career as a scholar and address his strongest passion—creating opportunities for undergraduates.

Not Far from the Tree

The son of two educators, his father in the arts and his mother in primary education, Paquette was born and raised in Brooklyn, and named for the protagonist Gabriel Oak in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, the book his parents were reading in the English course at Hunter College where they met. “They almost named me ‘Oak,’” he adds. “But thankfully my grandmother intervened.”

Close, but No Hogwarts

A recipient of a mix of public and scholarship-funded private education, Paquette arrived at Johns Hopkins after teaching at Harvard University, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and Wesleyan University. While he treasured his time at the University of Cambridge as a graduate student and postdoc, it coincided with the Harry Potter craze, which caused several memorable interactions for Paquette. “I was often mistaken for Daniel Radcliffe,” he laughs. “It was actually worse when I was heading into a 16th-century building for high table, wearing a gown that resembled a cape.”

Learning Takes Surprising Paths

“If you have a room full of brilliant students well-trained as writers and speakers, and then you have a faculty member who is a world expert in a particular area of study and is able to communicate that joy while at the same time being rigorous—I mean, good things are going to happen there, right? And the result of those discussions can bring students into worlds they have scarcely imagined, perhaps to a major, perhaps a career, perhaps a passion,” Paquette says. “That’s what I want to foster and encourage. Twenty, forty years from now, for students to look back at their time at Clark Honors College and feel that it prepared them for all of the wonderful things in their life, and for a continuous intellectual adventure.”

—By Laurie Notaro, University Communications  

 Photo by Jessica Douglas, Class of 2019