On Tuesday night, about forty students gathered in Kohlberg for a fireside chat to discuss the search for a replacement for Dean Bob Gross, who retires at the end of this school year. In attendance to respond to the students’ questions and comments were Provost Constance Hungerford, College Vice President Maurice Eldridge, and Lizzy Vogel ’07, Zsaleh Harivandi ’07, and Jaky Joseph ’06, the student representatives of the dean selection committee. Also on the committee are Dean of Admissions Jim Bock, and Professors Nathalie Anderson, Garikai Campbell, and Andrew Ward, of the English, Mathematics, and Psychology Departments, respectively.
After a welcome by Lizzy Vogel, the floor was opened to any and all questions the students had for committee members regarding the dean search.
The first question of the evening asked what exactly the Dean of the College position was responsible for. The short answer was everything that has to do with student life. Eldridge listed psychological services, health services, career services, the registrar’s office, multicultural affairs, as well as other deans, as some of the various entities that report to the Dean of the College. The Dean also advises some students, chairs the Committee on Academic Requirements, and assists students facing special difficulties.
“The Dean of the College is also the public face of the Deans’ Office, and likely the first person your parents would go to if there was a problem,” Hungerford added.
The search for the new dean is on a national scale, looking at as diverse a pool of applicants as possible. Admittedly, there are some preferences in applicants, such as a masters or Ph.D degree, and it is very important that the new dean should have had a wide range of experience with student life, and maybe even with a liberal arts college. However, the search is certainly not based on any formula or set of credentials.
“We would not exclude anyone just because he has a law degree,” joked Eldridge.
Since Dean Gross is an alum of Swarthmore, a student wondered, would it be a preference or an added bonus to get another alum to replace him? An alum would be a bonus, was the answer from Maurice Eldridge, and there is an outreach effort to alums to nominate each other, or even themselves.
As far as the search itself goes, applications are coming in, and will do so until the December 15 deadline, but, “we don’t expect to start combing through them until after winter break,” said Provost Hungerford. From the applicant pool, the committee will select about eight candidates to interview in person or over the phone, and from them, will choose three finalists for “public scrutiny.”
Because of confidentiality issues, a larger group of students will not be able to actually meet the candidates until the latter are narrowed down to three, but at that point, these meetings between students and candidates will be critical in President of the College Al Bloom’s final decision. The idea behind involving students is fairly clear: not only should the students have some say in their new dean, but also the potential deans get a glimpse of the kinds of students with whom they may find themselves working closely.
“If the candidate does not fit in well with the students, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Hungerford.
There was a question as to the kinds of characteristics the committee would look for in their applicants. Trying not to compare the future dean to the current dean, Eldridge and Hungerford offered that the candidate should be warm, knowledgeable about the issues important to the college age group, flexible, rational, able to work with and manage a diverse team, and intelligent to enjoy Swarthmore, and should have experience in student life as well as a sense of humor.
Maurice Eldridge stressed that it was important to know what the students value in a dean, rather than imposing a set of characteristics on the students.
In light of that statement, students were given the opportunity to share what they wanted to see in the new dean, and even what they just liked about Dean Gross. For instance, receptivity to cultural groups on campus was brought up by several, and accessibility and friendliness by others.
All students are encouraged to send comments, questions, and example interview questions to the selection committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students also have the option of emailing any one of the committee members, who will in turn present the students’ opinions anonymously to the rest of the committee.