Deb Liddell smiles

March 17, 2020

After spending nearly 30 years at the University of Iowa College of Education, teaching and mentoring hundreds of graduate students, Deb Liddell, professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA), will retire in the summer of 2020.

Liddell earned her Masters in College Student Personnel from Iowa State University in 1980 and her doctorate from Auburn University in 1990. She joined the College of Education faculty in 1993.

Liddell earned a journalism degree from Georgia State University in 1978. As a working student, she spent her precious free time in college radio, college publications, and new student orientation. After her undergraduate dean and mentor loaned her textbooks on college student development, her career interests were redirected to higher education. She worked in student affairs eight years at three different campuses before pursuing her doctorate and shifting her focus to becoming a faculty member.

“I decided that I wanted to change the world a generation at a time instead of one student at a time,” Liddell says. “I wanted to prepare the next generation of student affairs educators.”

Liddell’s research focuses on the moral and ethical development of college students. Like many of her HESA colleagues, her work has tried to answer the question ‘what happens to students in college that helps them grow as adults?’

She was particularly interested in how morality was defined and assessed, the importance of cognitive dissonance as opportunities for ethical growth, and investigating how the ethics of care and justice contribute to students’ construction of moral problems.

“Moral decisions are not always just about what is right or just. It’s also about who gets hurt, who benefits, who compromises, and the impact on relationships,” Liddell says. “My work doesn’t look at care and justice as separate domains, but rather morality as a way to think about both principles and people.”

Liddell has won many awards throughout her career including the College of Education Audrey Qualls Commitment to Diversity Award (twice), the Iowa Student Personnel Association Distinguished Service Award, and Diamond Honoree for the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). She recently completed a five-year term as an ACPA Senior Scholar. She served several terms as graduate program coordinator, one term as Departmental Executive Officer of her department, and was a member of Faculty Senate and Graduate Council.

One of Liddell’s proudest achievements is cultivating a caring and celebratory community within the HESA program.

“We’ve had some students here who have lived through big crises, like the traumatic death of a mate or parent, a health crisis, a premature child in a life-threatening situation,” Liddell says. “To watch our students step up for each other reflects a community of caring here.”

Liddell is also proud of bringing the Journal of College Student Development back to the University of Iowa. She is in her fifth and final year as editor of the journal, which receives nearly 600 annual submissions and has an acceptance rate of under 10 percent. She also led the development of the new Doctorate of Education (EdD) program at the College of Education and shepherded the merger of the Student Development and Higher Education programs in 2010.

“I hope our students will be bold in their work and consider the human consequence that their efforts have,” Liddell says. “Making change – whether with one student or an entire institution – requires focus and stamina. I would hope that our graduates have not only a clear sense of who they are and what they stand for, but also an arsenal of tools for making change.”

In her retirement, Liddell is excited to spend more time with her family, engage in artistic and intellectual interests, and travel more extensively with her spouse John Westefeld, who retired from the College in 2016. She said she will miss working with her colleagues across the college.

“We’re a college that celebrates each other’s successes. I’ll miss my colleagues,” Liddell says.