[Editorial] What we look for in a dean of students
by The Milton Measure on Friday, April 20th, 2012
The recent search for a new dean of students has prompted us at the Measure to consider what exactly we wish for in a dean of students and, more generally, what we expect from the deans’ office. For the past 6 years, Ms. Johnson has been a wonderful dean, and we will all be sad to see her go. She has been an influential administrator and a great presence on campus. She has formed many strong connections with the students and will be sorely missed. Her shoes will undoubtedly be hard to fill, so we have been asking ourselves what qualities to look for in the next dean .
To many, the deans do nothing more than sit on DCs and then subsequently read the statements. The job description posted on highered.com states that the dean of students is “[r]esponsible for policy and its implementation in the boarding and day programs…[and] oversees student support programs, student activities, advising and discipline.” Sometimes, however, it feels like the final job, overseeing discipline, is the only one on display. This ambiguity can be one of the biggest problems with the dean of students’ position: students often misunderstand what he, or any other dean, actually does.
Presence, above all else, is the most important characteristic of a dean, and it is important for the new dean to come in and make his presence known immediately. It will be extremely tempting for the new dean to simply observe the inner workings of the Milton community for a time while making meeting students and implementing change a lesser priority. However, we urge the new dean not to fall into this trap. While tempting, sitting idly will only give the new dean a lot of catching up to do. Milton can be a hard place to break into, but breaking in early will make all the difference in his effectiveness as dean and ability to get students on board with his initiatives. If, in this first year as dean, the new member implements change, connects with students, and becomes a “household” name, he will have a much easier time with the position in the future.
With this presence must also come approachability. How can a dean expect to make the right decisions without a feel for student opinion and activity? A dean must be firm and respected, yes, but he must, at the same time, be approachable. Students are less likely to engage the dean in meaningful conversation if he comes off as cold or indifferent.
One barrier to being approachable is the setup of the deans’ office itself. With Ms. Pulit as the “gatekeeper” to a secret labyrinth of deans’ offices, students rarely walk in to chat with the deans or ask for advice. Ms. Bonenfant explicitly told us that she would love if more students would come in and ask her questions, “the highlight of her day.” Ms. Johnson keeps her signature twinkies open for all to munch on, and the new dean needs to make a similar effort to invite students into his or her office. However, the layout of the deans’ office will never change, so we urge the new dean, and all deans for that matter, to venture out and fraternize with students. Deans who immerse themselves will accomplish the dual task of heightening both presence and approachability.
There are no big changes to be made; the new dean of students does not need to reinvent the wheel. He does, however, need to be known. Presence and approachability, above all else, will make the next dean of students valuable.
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