SMU’s first gay dean may not lead the parade, but he sure isn’t in the closet

Posted on 30 Sep 2010 at 7:30pm

David Chard heads up SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education, started 3 years ago

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

David Chard
David Chard

David Chard wanted to make sure before taking the job as dean of Southern Methodist University’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education three years ago that he wouldn’t be closing himself back into a closet. That’s why he was upfront with administrators about being gay when he applied.

Before even coming to Dallas to interview, Chard asked an SMU faculty member he knew if he should reveal his sexual orientation. She told him SMU administrators all knew he was gay, but that they probably weren’t looking for someone who would be grand marshal of the gay Pride parade.

“So now,” Chard said recently, “I want to be grand marshal of the Pride parade.”

But, he added, he’ll probably take a pass on performing in drag at S4’s Rose Room with Joe Hoselton, the graduate admissions coordinator at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts who performs regularly under the stage name Jenna Skyye.

Although Chard was named the first permanent dean of the Simmons School three years ago, the school just became consolidated under one roof with the dedication of the new Simmons School building on Sept. 24. Before then, Simmons’ education, dispute resolution and counseling, and physiology departments were part of other SMU schools.

Among the various named areas of the new building is the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas Reception Area outside the dean’s office.

“About six to eight months ago, I met with the [GLFD] board and asked if they’d sponsor a fundraising event,” Chard said, explaining how the reception area got its name.

At the time Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas was involved in another project, but GLFD members made plans to raise funds with an event later, nothing their intent on the fund’s website.

Chard said GLFD received an immediate response that included donations from many alumni and faculty, which funded the reception area in time for the building’s dedication.

Chard came to Dallas from the University of Oregon. While Oregon has a reputation for being gay-friendly, he said that part of the country has more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Chard said SMU has a more welcoming environment, with many more gays and lesbians on its faculty and staff.

SMU made Princeton Review’s list of most homophobic colleges in the country again this year. But Chard doesn’t believe the school deserves that position on the Princeton Review list, calling SMU’s administration very respectful of him and his relationship.

As an example, he said, “My partner is invited to every major event and he receives the spousal gift.”

Chard said the listing is based on student responses, and “Student responses don’t match [SMU’s] policies,” he said.

Chard did acknowledge that the ranking was helpful in demonstrating where community relationships need to be built. He said he has used the school’s rating to encourage participation by other deans in LGBT community events such as the Black Tie Dinner.

He also said that his being a member of the LGBT community has presented opportunities for SMU. The Simmons School’s counseling department provides counseling through Resource Center Dallas. And Chard said that there is a waiting list to participate in that internship program. Once Resource Center has more room in its planned new building, he’ll provide more students for the program, he said.

Resource Center Executive Director Cece Cox said SMU has made “a huge commitment” to RCD, and that the school’s connection to the Resource Center goes further than its counseling program.  Chard hired Resource Center to do diversity training for students training to be teachers and counselors.

He said that all SMU student teaching is done in Dallas. Because Dallas Independent School District has non-discrimination policies in place, it was important for his students to understand diversity issues.

Cox said the relationship with Simmons has expanded to the business school. Resource Center provides training for MBA students to understand LGBT diversity policies at most Fortune 500 companies, including most of the top Dallas-based corporations.

Chard named Cox to the Simmons School’s executive board, he said, because she represents an important group of potential donors.

“She represents gay alumni,” he said. “It’s a community we need to build a relationship with.”

“He’s incredibly innovative,” Cox said. “He’s helped SMU get involved in the community.”

Cox said that community extends far beyond just the LGBT community and that Chard has made important contributions in many areas around Dallas.

The department of dispute resolution based on the Legacy campus in Plano works with local companies such as American Airlines and J.C. Penney. The department of applied physiology works with the area’s professional sports teams and the education department is currently working with Southwest Airlines.

“We’re helping them think about the format they use for pilot training,” he said.

Simmons faculty members serve on planning committee of the upcoming Perot Science Museum that will be built in Victory Park and advised on the Children’s Adventure Garden at Dallas Arboretum.

Chard said that Simmons was never intended to be just another education school.  “We’re here to build community relationships,” he said.

Now that Simmons School is established and settling into its own home, Chard has plans to expand the school’s mission of research and beginning new programs, including a special education program.

He said special education attracts a large number of gays and lesbians to the field and thinks it’s because of the connection to helping those needing the most help.

Chard earned his own Ph.D. in special education. He began his career as a high school math and chemistry teacher. Then he joined the Peace Corps and taught in Lesotho for four years where he met his wife.

Chard joined the faculty of University of Texas, and he and his wife had three children.

After coming out, Chard accepted a position at the University of Oregon. A motivation to move back to Texas was that his children were still here.

Comparing SMU with UT, he said, “SMU is a face-to-face campus. UT is a city.”

His partner of two years recently moved from Boston to Dallas, and Chard said they are just getting settled.

Chard said Dallas pleasantly surprised him. He called the city nice, giving and gracious.

“I found Dallas to be a lot more interesting than Austin,” he said. “Great neighborhoods. The gay community is more active.”

Chard brought one of his daughters to last week’s Pride parade. He said seven students marched in an SMU entry. His daughter suggested they march with them next year.

He said he’s thinking about it — unless he’s the grand marshal.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

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