Florida State University dean Karen Laughlin dies

Florida State University says Karen Laughlin, its dean of undergraduate studies, has died. (Photo: FSU)
Florida State University says Karen Laughlin, its dean of undergraduate studies, has died. (Photo: FSU)(WCTV)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 9:22 AM EDT
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By: Pat Mueller | WCTV Eyewitness News

May 5, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Florida State University says Karen Laughlin, its dean of undergraduate studies, has died.

FSU President John Thrasher says the entire university community is mourning Laughlin's death.

“I was so sorry to hear of Dr. Laughlin’s passing,” he said. “Karen was committed to ensuring that the university continued to give a high priority to undergraduate education and to helping provide FSU’s undergraduate students with the richest possible educational experience. She will be missed terribly.”

FSU says Laughlin led the Division of Undergraduate Studies for the past 17 years. She also held a tenured position as an associate professor of English.

On Saturday, Laughlin joined Thrasher to present more than 5,600 bachelor's degrees to spring graduates during


“We are deeply saddened to lose Karen, who meant so much to the university and was so passionate in her support of a liberal arts education,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie. “She strongly believed in having students view problems from many different perspectives to find creative solutions. She was especially proud of the Presidential Scholars program and saw that as her lasting legacy.”

FSU says Presidential Scholars is the school's premier merit scholarship program, which invests in undergraduate students with extraordinary potential to be the transformational leaders of their generation.

During her time as dean, Laughlin focused on boosting retention and completion rates by making sure students had the support and connection they needed to the university.

According to the university, she strengthened FSU’s advising process and implemented academic mapping to help students graduate in four years, and under her leadership, FSU’s freshman retention rate and four-year graduation rate reached all-time highs.

As part of her efforts to make students feel at home on FSU's campus, Laughlin directed the Office of National Fellowships, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement, the Honors Program, Global Scholars, Unconquered Scholars, the Center for Academic Retention & Enhancement (CARE), the Academic Center for Excellence and Freshmen Interest Groups.

Prior to her role as dean of undergraduate studies, Laughlin served as chair of several faculty senate committees, including both the Undergraduate and Graduate Policy Committees, as well as president of the FSU Faculty Senate from 2000 to 2002.

Laughlin first came to FSU in 1982 and held a joint appointment in English and Humanities for several years. She received her B.A. from Duke University and studied abroad in France. After she graduated, she went back to France on a Fulbright Fellowship that let her teach English at a high school in Limoges. Following that, she went to Canada and earned her M.A. and P.H.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.

Laughlin was especially interested in teaching Modern and American Drama, women's studies, film and critical theory. Additionally, she enjoyed the plays of Samuel Beckett. She was honored with a Teaching Incentive Award in 1994 and 1996.

Her published works include a collection of essays on Theatre and Feminist Aesthetics and articles and book chapters on playwrights like Bertolt, Brecht, Beth Henley, Susan Glaspell, Megan Terry, and, of course, Beckett.

“Florida State is proud of its liberal arts tradition,” she wrote on the Undergraduate Studies website, “recognizing the importance of engaging students with a broad range of knowledge and with ideas both new and old.”

Laughlin told students FSU's liberal arts curriculum “trains you to think logically, to analyze clearly, and to communicate with precision and power."

“I encourage you to approach all of your course work with an open mind, explore new fields of knowledge, rethink your own assumptions, and enjoy the intellectual challenges you encounter," she said. "Doing so will enrich your life in ways that may well surprise you.”

The university did not say how Laughlin died.

This is a developing story. Stay with WCTV as we continue to gather more information.
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