A search continues

Julia Perkins

The national search for a candidate who will take on the vice president for student affairs position will begin this month.

Executive Vice President and Provost Mark Thompson calls this one of the most important administrative positions.

But this post has been vacant since former Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Manuel Carreiro transitioned to a new role in August 2013.

(See “Stepping in” to read about the women who have shared the responsibilities for the VP for student affairs position for the past year.)

Thompson said he hopes to find someone to fill this position by January or February. Whoever is selected will start on July 1, 2015.

This is the second time within a year the university has looked for a vice president for student affairs.

Last academic year, a search committee identified three finalists to take on the position. But Thompson–who makes the final decision on who will fill this role–looked at the candidates and thought the university could do better.

“I wasn’t satisfied with the diversity of the pool that we had to choose from,” Thompson said. “And again I’m not looking for adequacy in this position. I’m looking for someone who is going to be truly extraordinary in terms of what they can do in service to our students. I didn’t see it in the finalists that were presented to me last year.”

Thompson said last year’s search committee did a great job, but this year he will head the search himself.

“I need to have some more direct involvement because I have some specific ideas about what I’d like to see in this individual and I’d like to be part of this process from the beginning,” he said.

Thompson said he wants to find a candidate who will bring a fresh, “dynamic” approach to looking at student issues, such as programming on the weekends.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m dissatisfied with our Student Affairs folks because I’m satisfied,” he said. ”But I’m always looking to improve and I think it would be great if we had someone who came in with a new set of some different ways of thinking [about] how we can better serve students and really drive a process and start to make some changes that I think would be positive.”

Last year, the university set up a search committee, advertised for candidates, screened the applicants, conducted phone interviews and then brought several candidates to campus to meet with students and staff. The committee gave feedback on the candidates to Thompson, who decided not to hire anyone.

Student Affairs is a broad department, encompassing many different aspects of student life, Thompson said, so some people did not feel like they were involved in last year’s search process.

“I think there was a sense of some people feeling like they were in the process and other people feeling like they were outside the process, so that was a little bit of a problem,” he said.

To combat this issue, Thompson formed an advisory committee made up of representatives from various entities, such as the Learning Commons and Public Safety, that work with Student Affairs. This committee will meet in the next few weeks to discuss how they will go about the search process.

The university may hire a search firm to help them find candidates, something that was not done last year.

“It’s costly to do it that way, but they do an awful lot of work in terms of identifying particular candidates,” Thompson said.

The advisory committee could recruit candidates from similar universities, in addition to creating traditional advertisements for the position, Thompson said.

Once the advisory committee narrows down a smaller pool of candidates, the group will bring in Student Affairs representatives and students to get their input. Thompson said it is important for students and student organizations to be included in this process.

Like last year, several finalists will come to campus to meet students, staff and faculty and present to different departments.

“The thing is, everybody looks really good on paper,” Thompson said. “But it makes a big difference when you sit down with someone and have a face-to-face conversation and make sure they’re a good fit for our community.”

Then it will be up to Thompson to choose one of the candidates based on the community’s feedback. Thompson said he will ask President John Lahey what he thinks, but the final decision rests with Thompson.

“I think this is a real opportunity for us,” Thompson said. “This position doesn’t come open very often, so we have to be very careful in who we select. And as I said I think it’s one of the most important positions on the campus, given that it has a direct impact on student life, which is of course of the utmost importance.”