February 19, 2001

Search Continues for New Dean of Students

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The University administration will continue accepting new nominations while searching for the next Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students.

John L. Ford held the position for eight years at Cornell before resigning last December to become vice president and dean of campus life at Emory University.

Meanwhile, Tanni Hall ’76, associate dean of students, is filling the vacancy this semester as the interim dean of students.

“As usual with these sorts of things, the University is taking lots and lots of steps with input from many different groups,” Hall said about the search process.

The search, however, focuses entirely on tenured faculty members, and thus Hall and several other potential candidates cannot be considered to fill the position in the future.

Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services and chair of the dean search, explained the strategy as an effort to maintain strong ties between academic and student life.

“I am confident that among our tenured faculty we’ll find a good match,” Murphy said, speaking on behalf of the committee composed of 17 administrators, faculty, staff members and students.

“If we don’t find the right person among the tenured faculty, we will broaden the search, but I am confident that we will,” she said.

The recommendation that a tenured faculty member hold the Dean of Students position began with a committee chaired by the former Dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, David Lipsky, when the entire structure of the Dean of Students Office was being reexamined.

Ford, taking over as Dean of Students in 1992 after the merger of the offices of Student Union and Activities, pioneered a new role for the position. The first faculty member to hold the position, Ford previously worked as a lecturer and then a tenured faculty member in the College of Human Ecology from 1972 to 1992.

While there has been little doubt that a suitable candidate can be found from Cornell’s pool of professors, some committee members and students expressed concerns about restricting the search so early on.

“I have a minor concern that we’re leaving out someone really talented for the position by limiting our initial search to tenured faculty members,” said one committee member under the condition of anonymity.

“Because I think there will be good candidates, I am not worried,” said Uzo Asonye ’02, Student Assembly president, about the search. He added, however, that he could name many administrators and staff members from Campus Life who would make strong candidates if it were not for the tenured faculty restriction.

The committee hopes to fill the position by the end of the spring semester, thus ending the all-encompassing search process that began last fall when Ford announced that he would leave Cornell.

“I’m thrilled that, in this case — unlike with the College of Engineering dean search — the University is seeking student input,” said Kira Moriah ’03, a search committee member. “Whenever someone is being hired who works so closely with students, I think it is essential to have students in the search process.”

The Dean of Students works as the primary liaison between students and the administration. Serving under the Division of Student and Academic Services, the Dean of Students oversees fraternity and sorority affairs, new student programs, the Student Activities Office and Willard Straight Hall.

The position directly influences the more than 550 student organizations that receive support and advice from the Student Activities Office.

In addition, the Dean of Students directs Cornell United Religious Work, one of the country’s first interfaith college programs, which comprises of more than twenty affiliated communities.

Hall, serving as interim dean for the second time in addition to maintaining her regular duties as associate dean of students, described the full agenda for this semester — a schedule which is made busier as the University works to complete the North Campus Residential Initiative.

“We’re always moving forward, setting priorities with a certain initiative,” Hall said, adding that she is “treating the job as if it were [her] own,” in order to keep the organization healthy.

Hall last served as interim dean in the spring of 1999 when Ford spent the semester at the University of Chicago as an American Council on Education Fellow.

Reflecting on the internal search process, Hall said that she thought it was appropriate because selecting a tenured faculty member would ensure that whoever holds the job is “really knowledgeable about Cornell.”

Although Murphy could not identify the candidates so early in the process, she said that the pool is already looking strong.

“I believe that the partnership we can form with a member of the faculty in that position has many benefits as we move forward on the living-learning initiatives, and as we work to make President Rawlings’ vision to be the best research University for undergraduates a reality,” she said.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts