Candidates for permanent dean of Student Affairs hold forums

Carnegie Mellon students have prepared themselves for many changes this semester, and the list will grow soon. The search for a permanent dean of Student Affairs is about to come to an end.

Three candidates for the position spoke with campus organizations, faculty, and students during the first two weeks of March. During this time, each candidate also held an open forum for students in Rangos 3 of the University Center.

On Tuesday, March 7, interim dean of Student Affairs Jennifer Church held her forum. Church has participated in the application process and now stands as one of the three final candidates. She has worked in the Carnegie Mellon Student Affairs office for 11 years. During six of those years, she served as the office’s associate dean.

Church worked at the Yakima Valley Community College in the state of Washington as the director of Housing and Student Activities. Before that, she worked in admissions at the University of Iowa.
Coming into the candidate pool knowing Carnegie Mellon and its students, Church shared her belief that she would integrate student views in her decisions. She also emphasized the importance of community.

“The most critical part of the job is to be visible and accessible and part of the community,” she said in an interview before her forum. During her time in Student Affairs, Church has attended many events on campus. Claiming a vested interest in the University, Church has initiated new programs on the Carnegie Mellon campus, such as the Late Night Program and the Greek Task Force.

“You can’t build a community if you feel that you don’t have a place where you belong in that community,” Church said at her forum.

Charlene Cole-Newkirk, dean of the College of Southern Maryland’s Prince Frederick campus, spoke with students on Friday, March 3. Cole-Newkirk comes from a judicial background but has worked in higher education for over 30 years.

She has worked with students in universities large and small. The campus over which she currently presides in Maryland is the fastest-growing campus in the state, and Cole-Newkirk has played a formative role in making sure that the needs of students are met. For instance, she pushed for the university to build a student union and made sure to voice student opinions when speaking with architects.

“The dean of Student Affairs is the number-one advocate for students within the administration,” said Cole-Newkirk. She said she will eat with students, work out with them, and celebrate with them in order to better represent them.

Cole-Newkirk drew from her broad range of experience in answering the questions of students. Even with many stories to tell, she did not claim to know the culture of Carnegie Mellon and does not plan to enter the University with a specific agenda.

“What’s important for me is coaching students,” she said. “The only way I do that is to establish relationships.”

Richard Ferraro, who held his forum on Wednesday, March 8, currently serves as the dean of students at Bucknell University. He has worked at Emory University, William and Mary College, and Columbia University. Like Cole-Newkirk, his experience extends from the large university to the small college.

Ferraro believes that his job is not “just your widgets and numbers” — he likes to connect with his students on more than a superficial level. At Bucknell, he has visited hospitalized students and has participated in events to which students invited him.

Like Cole-Newkirk, Ferraro intends to get a better picture of Carnegie Mellon before putting forward any agenda.

“It is the height of fatuousness to assume that you can come in and immediately decide to do this and that,” he said.

Ferraro emphasized holistic learning that involves more than the intellectual. A first-generation college student in his family, he believes that the primacy of education should apply to all things curricular and meta-curricular.

Ferraro’s anecdotes evinced his firm belief that dialogue requires civility. “I think a dean of students needs to be above factions,” he said.

The selection process began when former Dean of Student Affairs Michael Murphy took the position of associate vice-president last April. Associate Dean of Student Affairs Jennifer Church took his position last fall and became the campus’ interim dean. She will remain the interim dean until the administration hires a permanent one.

Last fall, an 18-person committee took charge of the search for a new dean. Richard Tucker, head of the Department of Modern Languages, led the committee’s efforts.

“The committee is broadly representative of the students and faculty,” said Tucker. Representatives from all seven of the University’s colleges came together to find Murphy’s successor.

“Dean Murphy set good precedents. He was accessible and communicated well with faculty and students,” Tucker said. “He worked tirelessly, and his successor must be of the same caliber.”

Beginning in the second week of last November, the committee developed a position description and sent out notices of the job to sources such as The Chronicle of Higher Education. They met to discuss the qualities of an excellent candidate and brainstormed the qualities desired in a permanent dean.

About 70 applicants submitted complete packets for the committee to consider. Each committee member ranked all of the packets on a three-point scale: A score of 1 indicated an extremely strong candidate that the committee could see in the position.

After compiling descriptive statistics about the ratings of each candidate, the committee chose nine to interview over the telephone. Four or five members of the committee participated in each individual telephone interview.
The committee members then ranked each candidate on the three-point scale again and discussed which candidates to recommend. In the end, they suggested that three of the candidates be brought to campus.
“I believe that the committee approved these three candidates enthusiastically — almost unanimously, in fact,” Tucker said. “We wanted to see the person in reality versus the person on paper and on the telephone.”

The three candidates who made it this far met with many campus organizations within the last two weeks and faced more questions and review. Tucker hopes the small window of opportunity to see the behavior of the candidates will pay off.

From here, the search committee will further deliberate on the candidates based on feedback from the campus community. Tucker noted that the goal is to have a new dean of Student Affairs before the end of the semester.