Out of the Vacuum

In the fall of 2012, two new faces will be present at Deans’ Table: Trish Russell as the Interim Dean of West Quad South Cluster and Jennifer Elliott as the Dean of Abbot Cluster. We are excited to have Ms. Russell and Ms. Elliott as leaders and believe the administration has made two strong decisions.

The position of Cluster Dean contributes to the quality of student life in each cluster. Deans serve as mentors, mediators, parent and disciplinary figures and have endless opportunity to influence and shape students’ daily lives, for better or for worse.

In its current format, however, the process for selecting Cluster Deans occurs in a vacuum and ignores the significance of the Cluster Dean as a defining figure for students.

After interested Cluster Dean applicants submit their names, Becky Sykes, Associate Head of School, Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty, and Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, narrow the pool to two candidates. The Abbot Cluster Dean selection this fall marked the first time that the entire faculty had an opportunity to comment on the two candidates. Ms. Sykes, Mr. Maqubela and Mr. Murphy reviewed the faculty feedback and made a final selection.

The addition of a faculty comment period made promising headway towards guaranteeing that a Cluster Dean candidate, in the opinion of the faculty, has the necessary qualities to lead a cluster well.

While the opinions of the faculty are important, they are often based solely on colleagues’ professional and social relationships with candidates. This perspective offers no insight into each candidate’s relationship with students nor into how the candidate might relate to students as a Cluster Dean.

The selection of a Cluster Dean has equal or more bearing on student life in the cluster than on faculty life. Should a Cluster Dean be selected who does not and cannot command the respect of students or communicate with them sincerely, cluster spirit and quality of life, as well as the effectiveness of Discipline Committees and other rule management, would suffer.

While we believe Abbot and West Quad South will not encounter this situation with the two most recent decisions, the possibility certainly must be a concern.

To assess the true strength of a Cluster Dean candidate, students must be invited and encouraged to offer feedback about the faculty members applying to become Cluster Deans. They should be given an opportunity to provide confidential and anonymous comments to Ms. Sykes, Mr. Maqubela and Mr. Murphy about their relationship with a faculty member and how suited they believe that candidate to be.

A PAnet form, similar to the medium used by Head of School-elect John Palfrey to contact students and faculty, would serve as an appropriate and straightforward means of collecting student reactions.

Of course, a small contingent of students will always utilize the opportunity to offer false or misleading feedback about a Cluster Dean candidate. But the opportunity to gain true insight into the reputation or perception of a proposed leader in the eyes of the community far outweighs that negative effect.

When selecting leaders who can significantly shift students’ experiences in the dorm and in the cluster, the administration has a responsibility to seek the opinion of those directly impacted: the members of student body. Student opinions have a place in the selection process and should be given the weight they deserve.

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXV.