What Do Students Want in a Dean of Student Life?
BY ANNIE MULVEY AND BAILEY MITCHELL
Students express the qualities they would like to see in their dean of student life.
After former Dean of Student Life Stephanie Krauth resigned from the position in the fall, major changes and developments in Student Life, such as the announcement that Director of Plant Operations Dan Haslag would be fulfilling the position’s duties after the appointed interim dean Carolyn Perry took a leave of absence, have been explained via email. However, many students feel they received little information about the search for the new dean between Krauth’s resignation in November and March, when it was announced Westminster would not be hiring any of the final candidates who came to campus for interviews. During these months, students have expressed frustration about the lack of communication and involvement in the process.
The dean of student life serves as the head of the Student Life department, which consists of Residential and Greek Life, Career Development, the Wellness Center, Spiritual Life, Dining Services and the Emerson Center for Leadership and Service. The dean’s responsibilities include strategic planning and supervision of student life by monitoring business plans, goals and services; budget allocation; college promotion and reporting to the president on student needs and student research.
Currently, Haslag continues to carry out these duties indefinitely.
“I’m happy to serve the college in any capacity that my experience and skillset is of value,” Haslag said. “In my current role, I thoroughly enjoy working closely with our amazing students, and I remain focused on supporting their success. Thus, [there is] no hurry to give up the ‘Dean Dan’ title yet.”
Mark Boulton, associate professor of history and a member of the previous search committee, said that Haslag is “a very outgoing person who is easy to talk to about issues.”
After Haslag was named interim dean, the administration assembled a search committee of students, faculty and staff. The committee was tasked with finding a well-qualified candidate who would be a good fit for Westminster and could take on the role of dean of student life permanently. According to the college’s official announcement of the position, the minimum requirement for consideration is “a master’s degree in relevant fields and a history of distinguished service.” The announcement also specified a preference for a doctoral degree in student personnel, higher education or educational leadership. Candidates were also expected to have knowledge in areas such as Title IX requirements and retention theory, as well as experience working with Greek organizations and international and minority students.
Westminster’s administration has clear-cut criteria for selecting a new dean of student life, but students feel that there has been significant disconnect with the student body on what these criteria should be. While administrators have been looking for a candidate with the proper certificates, degrees and experience, students want someone more personal and relatable.
“I want a dean of students who doesn’t just sit in an office, but has a genuine commitment to constantly engaging with students,” Joseph Opoku, ’18, said.
Students say that they want a dean who will restore and rebuild the relationship between them and the administration. Students have expressed that, in recent years, they have felt a lack of transparency from the administration, leading to communication issues. The new dean, students say, should restore the relationship between administrators and students and should represent students first.
Student Government Association President Zach Stafford, ’17, said that he would like a dean who is approachable and makes his or her presence known on campus. He added that connection and an open-door policy would create a mutually beneficial relationship between the student population and the dean of student life, allowing both sides to have a voice in decisions. For instance, when a new policy is being developed, students look for some type of forum where they can express their opinions and contribute ideas.
Eileen Koppy, ’16, said that the dean of student life should be “somebody willing to listen to the needs of students, make compromises and look out for our best interest and the future of Westminster.”
Mik Ebert, ’16, echoed that sentiment. “The people most heavily affected by the dean of student life are the students, so they should have the most say in decisions,” he said. “The most important attribute in a new dean of student life is having the best interest of the student body at heart.”
Many students said that the “best interest” of the college involves working with different types of students. They added that it is important for the next dean to be relatable and able to work with Westminster’s diverse student body.
“As an international student, sometimes we don’t know the exact person we can turn to for help,” Jiaming Gao, ’16, from Beijing, said. “I hope a dean of student life can also be the person who can help with problems we have here.”
Shambavi Natarajan, ’16, from India, is also looking for that “missing connection.”
“I think we should have that kind of person who connects us together,” Natarajan said.
Faculty and staff agreed that a candidate’s ability to have the right fit was important and indicated a number of qualities they believe the new dean should possess. Dr. Cliff Cain, Harrod-C.S. Lewis professor of religious studies, said that the candidate should “lead by example and be transparent, people-oriented and cooperative.” He added, “I think we’re all in this together, educating and serving our students, so there has to be an intentional openness to including other people in programs and decisions that are made and a valuing of both positive contributions and criticisms.”
Despite the final candidates’ match in the qualifications listed for the position, Akande sent an email to all students, faculty and staff on March 10 announcing that the search had been suspended indefinitely. In the email, Akande stated that none of the four candidates would become the new dean.
“Finding the right leader is a decision I take seriously,” Akande wrote. “Although the candidates were knowledgeable about student life and well-received by our campus community, I am not convinced we have found the right student champion to provide a strong and steady hand during a critical time.”
Caleb Herr, ’17, another student representative on the committee, said that he was “mostly impressed by all of the candidates,” but added that “none of them stuck out to [him] as someone who would be a perfect fit for Westminster, in regards to being able to connect with students.”
Dr. Kasi Lacey, director of the Wellness Center, said: “We just didn’t find someone who was an exact fit for what we’re looking for right now and what we need right now. I don’t think that we should ever settle on someone who’s just good enough. I think it’s in our best favor to wait until we find the perfect fit.”
This article was investigated and reported by the Introduction to Digital Journalism class and written by Bailey Mitchell and Annie Mulvey.