October 18, 2000

University Begins Search for New Dean of Students

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Cornell will begin its search for the University’s second dean of students this week, said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.

John L. Ford, the original Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students will vacate the position on Jan. 3, 2001, heading south to become the vice president and dean of campus life at Emory University.

The Sun reported last month that Ford — a mainstay at the University since 1974 — would depart the Ithaca campus. He had been selected among four finalists for the Emory position.

“I wondered what I could accomplish at a smaller university,” Ford said when announcing his departure. “This is an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often.”

For Cornell, an interim dean may head the Office of the Dean of Students in the spring for the second time in three years. During the spring of 1999, Ford had been named an American Council on Education fellow, and Tanni Hall, associate dean of students, served in his place.

“His job is just so comprehensive, so broad in scope,” Hall said of her experience. “It was very nice to just step in and get that point of view.”

After Ford had developed the dean of students office from its inception — the 1992 merger of offices for student unions and activities — his move came as little surprise among the dean’s staff.

Still, the news of Ford’s departure was not widespread until he was mentioned as a finalist for the Emory position.

Then, Hall said, “It really made sense that he would be looking for the next step up.”

To accommodate the change in leadership in the dean’s office while overseeing all of the student unions and programs, Hall and the rest of the staff devised an organizational chart for the Willard Straight operation and divided the tasks among themselves.

“Everybody in this office had to pitch in. It really had a sense of a team effort,” Hall recalled.

“I hope that — to the people who received our services — [the semester’s transition] appeared seamless,” said Catherine Holmes ’85, associate dean of students.

That year, the office won an award for the 30-year commemoration of the Willard Straight takeover, and the group of people comprising the office then remains largely intact today.

With the Office of the Dean of Students in mind, Holmes said that if the University required an interim dean once again, then many hope to see Hall return to her temporary post from two years past.

“A lot of us are hoping that that would be the direction in which we go [next semester],” she said.

Hall acknowledged the opportunity that appears to be arising for her, but she would not confirm that the job would be hers in the spring.

“It would seem likely, and I would really enjoy the opportunity,” Hall said, though she has not yet formally discussed the matter with the Administration.

The search for the dean’s permanent replacement is an entirely different process than finding an interim dean.

“As the description reads now, I am pretty sure that the priority would be to get someone with faculty experience,” she said, citing Ford’s doctoral degree and administrative experience as precedent. “It’s going to be really hard to fill that position by Jan. 3.”

In the meantime, “we’re doing business as usual,” Hall said.

The interim dean will have duties such as meeting with the Board of Trustees, alumni and members of the greek system and campus at large. Sometimes, though, the dean just has to respond to concerned parents over the telephone, said Holmes, who works closely with student assemblies.

Additionally, the new dean will have to supervise the various organizations operating in Willard Straight Hall.

Holmes recently advised the Student Activities Forum to prepare for meeting the challenge of replacing Ford in a proactive manner. Several students have already demonstrated their interest in the search process, she said.

Seemingly an ordinary semester, students and staff are keeping the short-term future in the backs of their minds.

“At this point it doesn’t feel like a whole lot is changed yet,” Holmes said.

Craig Koester ’01, director of the Cornell University Program Board, began considering what he would look for in a new dean.

“The dean of students is supposed to be the representative of all the students on campus,” Koester said.

With an impending transition on the horizon, the dean’s office and students directly involved with the office remain undaunted by the challenges that change presents.

“When we know what the interim plan is, then we will just fold that into our work,” Hall said.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch