The Student Council meeting this week revolved around the visit from Liz Braun, who was recently announced to be the new Dean of Students, beginning in July. She is currently the Dean of Students at Mount Holyoke College. (Read an interview with Braun here.)
Braun was visiting campus with her family; she said her four-year-old son was wearing a Swarthmore sweatshirt and made her and her husband do “a Swarthmore cheer” before he went to bed that night. At the Student Council meeting, she talked with StuCo primarily about how she and StuCo could best interact in the future. She noted that she expects her first year to be mostly about getting to know the culture of Swarthmore, especially what kind of initiatives are and are not “culturally congruent.”
The meeting gradually turned into a meet-and-greet, with students coming to speak to Braun, and her asking those present to say one thing they loved about Swarthmore and one thing that frustrated them.
Currently, Student Council meets with Acting Dean of Students Garikai Campbell every week or two. Council President Rachel Bell ’10 said that they generally “bring issues” that they think he should be aware of, but worry that there is not as much interaction as they would like. Braun said that she looked forward to regularly discussing goals set by both Council and the Dean’s Office, and working to find where they intersected to see how they can best cooperate. Braun also noted that she would be interested in some involvement with a more substantial training process for new Council members.
The group discussed at length how student feedback can best be incorporated into what the Dean’s Office does. Braun described the Student Senate at Mount Holyoke, saying it was an institution that the Dean’s office had put a lot of effort into making work well; the Senate is Mount Holyoke’s primary method of getting student input on decisions. Some kinds of decisions are made almost entirely by the Senate — she cited the decision from a few years to go smoke-free in residential halls as one of this kind. For other policy changes, it is simply not feasible for student input to be the deciding factor, and she said that she tries to be very transparent about when student input is important and when decisions are made at a higher level.
Asked about how she sees her role in advocating policy changes brought up by students — particularly in relation to the recent Allied Barton controversy — Braun said that she would “have to hedge a bit,” since she is not yet familiar with the “governance structures.” At Mount Holyoke, however, she says that sometimes it’s appropriate for her to bring student concerns to other administrators, and sometimes it’s better to direct students towards committees relevant to their interests.
Replacement Process For Deans Sams and Wilcox
Braun said that she recently discussed the issue of filling Dean Sams and Dean Wilcox’s positions with President Chopp. This is a strange issue, she said, because administrators here have felt that it is more appropriate to wait for her to have a guiding role in how they will be replaced, but she doesn’t begin at Swarthmore until July; meanwhile, their jobs are going unfilled.
For now, Dean Sams’s position at the BCC has been filled by Dean Smaw, while Humzah Soofi and Sami El-Dalati have been overseeing many of Dean Wilcox’s responsibilities.
Braun said that President Chopp will be forming a working group this semester to determine what is needed out of a new BCC director. The BCC is still an integral part of Swarthmore, Braun said, but any time a position needs to be filled, “the only institutionally responsible thing to do” is to evaluate what students’ needs are and how best to meet them; the things students needed from it ten years ago may have been very different from what they need today. After these needs have been evaluated, a search committee will be named by the end of the semester, and begin work in the fall. Braun acknowledged that this timing is still difficult, and that in the meantime the Dean’s Office and students need to think creatively about how to best keep the BCC strong.
Dean Wilcox’s position, on the other hand, will not be filled for next year, in what Braun said was a “tough budget decision.” Her work was “incredibly important,” but will be spread out among other positions; much of what Wilcox focused on were wellness initiatives, which Braun said should not be “put in a little box and isolated,” they should be integrated across all of the Dean’s Office and indeed the entire operations of the College. She repeatedly stressed the need to keep Swarthmore a place where students can engage in their intellectual passions but still keep some measure of “rest and joy” — without “crushing your soul,” as she said one student put it while she was visiting.