After a long and distinguished career, the last five years of which have found him serving as dean of the Dwyer College of Health Sciences, Dr. Thomas Fisher is retiring.
He earned his B.S. in occupational therapy from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 1977, and he obtained further degrees from Purdue and the University of Kentucky, then embarked on a teaching career that included many years at the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University before returning to the IU system in 2003, when he started a long run at IUPUI in the department of occupational therapy.
By 2017, he was ready for the next phase. His predecessor at IU South Bend, Dr. Mario Ortiz, personally floated the idea to him.
I hadn’t really considered a deanship, but then I thought, What a great way to end my career,’ Fisher said. It was another level, another way of making an impact.
As dean, he set about the complicated process of managing and integrating the many sub-disciplines that all come together at Dwyer, ranging from nutritionists, nurses and occupational therapists to radiological technologists and dental hygiene students. Fisher connected with faculty and students on a personal level and also had the responsibility of overseeing a lot of technical requirements.
Most of the programs within this college are accredited, so we have to make sure we maintain all those accreditation standards, he said.
If an accreditation becomes jeopardized, there could be adverse ramifications for an individual student or even an entire program. If someone doesn’t make sure to tick all the boxes, a scholarship or crucial grant money can be revoked.
Deans are the chief academic officers of their units, Fisher said. The responsibilities are budgetary and administrative, and there’s also the personnel, the weekly meetings with other deans.
One IU South Bend protege of Fisher’s is Carlton Smith, who earned his B.S. in Health Sciences in 2019 from IUSB and has just completed the doctor of occupational therapy program at IUPUI. Fisher’s example made it clear to Smith that a life in occupational therapy was the direction for him.
Any student could ask to talk something over with him and he’d say, Absolutely.’ He would always find the time, Smith said. He knows so much about this profession, but he’s also a great person and he really cares about students. I appreciated that individualized attention.
Long accustomed to protecting his wards, Fisher and his leadership team had to make a tough adjustment at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. They had to put them, potentially, in harm’s way.
I had to convince the administration to allow our students to stay in the field until the field indicated they could not take them. It was critical for them to have that experience, said Fisher, who has navigated four pandemics during his career. These are the people who will be the leaders during the next pandemic, and there will be another pandemic.
Students and faculty were well-trained in the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the Dwyer students became, like so many others in the medical field, heroes during the crisis.
Fisher’s own commitment to hard work and innovation has hardly gone unnoticed by his peers. In 2017, he was named to the list of 100 Influential People in the history of the discipline of occupational therapy (now 105 years old) by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Closer to home, Fisher will be awarded the title Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, effective July 1.
Fisher’s post-retirement plans do not involve sailing off on a permanent vacation. He intends to continue reviewing books and writing manuscripts. Several institutions, after learning of his retirement from IU, have already inquired about his consultation services. He’ll stay busy, but for the first time in his career, he’ll have the option to say no.
What I’ve heard from (former Raclin School of the Arts dean) Marvin Curtis and others who’ve recently retired is that the calendar can fill up again quickly, Fisher said. I will have to monitor that.