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The Dean of the College Disaster

Ameer and Blank.jpgHere’s the theory: the Dean of the College slot has been filled over the last fifteen years with people (with one exception) who were chosen for their racial/gender profile rather than their competence. (Want proof of their mediocrity? Look where they are now.) As a direct result of these sub-par hires, Dartmouth has been beset with a series of student life crises that have grievously hurt its reputation. How to repair the damage?

First, strip out all of the extraneous responsibilities from the Dean’s portfolio (Athletics, DDS, dorm maintenance, etc.) so that the Dean is free to concentrate on student life matters. That’s been or being done now.

Then choose competent Deans. That’s right: two of them. HYP all have deans who are heavy-hitting academics, but they are buttressed by experienced administrators who can handle the nitty-gritty of financial planning, personnel management, and the day-to-day responsibility of running of an organization with a budget well into eight figures.

At the College we should have co-Deans of the College: a professor who knows the school, has a good dose of common sense, and can speak with sufficient intellectual authority to be respected by students; and an experienced administrator who can sweat the details, streamline a bloated, low-performance staff, and cut out waste wherever it may be found (everywhere).

The College appeared to be on the way to executing this strategy, but a serious misteep has been made. For some reason, the first hire to fill the two-step was Inge-Lise Ameer, the acting Dean of of the College. She has been named Vice Provost for Student Affairs — a job that entails almost all of the responsibilities of the previous Dean of the College position. Oh, no. When Ameer was appointed interim Dean last May, we reported on her background as follows:

She’s been at Dartmouth since 2010, having come from some little school in Cambridge, where she had last been Interim Director of Advising Programs (a job she performed well, according to the Crimson). Previously she had been the administrator for undergraduate English programs.

That said, Ameer worked hand in glove with Carol Folt, having chaired the cliquey meeting that led to the College’s embarrassing shutdown last year. And she recently put in a pallid appearance on NPR as part of the College’s ongoing public self-immolation regarding student life issues. In addition, she has been joined at the hip with outgoing Dean of the College Charlotte “Phil’s just a fundraiser” Johnson. Whether her work with Charlotte represents the accommodation of a loyal subordinate or a deeper ideological sympathy remains to be seen….

Whatever her past record, let’s hope that Phil ranges further afield than Ameer in choosing the College’s next Dean of the College.

Uninspiring stuff, to say the least. Ameer is barely more experienced than Sylvia Spears. How is it that we can’t hire people who have done the same job admirably at a lesser school than Dartmouth? That’s what is done in the corporate world; people work their way up the ladder, gaining relevant experience at each level. Do we expect Ameer to learn the position on the job? That expectation surely hasn’t been met in the past.

When Ameer’s hire as Vice Provost for Student Affairs was announced, the Dartmouth Now notice also stated that the next Dean of the College would be a current faculty member. That’s good on its face, but, of course, this new position with the old name has a much reduced list of responsibilities, as The D reported:

The new dean of the College will be the academic leader of the residential community system initiative outlined in the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan, Dever said. The dean will lead the new cohort of house professors, and will convene “serious working groups” on diversity and inclusion within the academic experience, Dever added.

Dever’s own announcement to the campus went further:

The dean will be a tenured member of the faculty who will offer strategic and creative leadership in the areas of undergraduate academic life, diversity and inclusion in the undergraduate academic experience, strategic planning, and the residential house system and house professors.

Reporting to me, the dean will lead the new house professors and a broad network of students, faculty, and staff to create a strong academic and residential program in the new residential house system. The dean will build partnerships across departments, programs, and schools to help us find the best ways to guide students in the pursuit of their educational goals. She or he will lead a process to help me to think through planning and innovation in the areas of admissions and financial aid, ensuring that Dartmouth is well positioned to compete in a changing world. The dean will also convene initiatives to address diversity and inclusion in the undergraduate academic experience.

And don’t forget diversity and inclusion.

The fluff about leading “a process to help me to think through planning and innovation in the areas of admissions and financial aid” has nothing to do with being the College’s official den mother and chaperone. The Dean of the College position has been gutted.

Then we learn from Provost Dever that, “The search for the next dean will be led by Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Denise Anthony” of the Sociology department. Not a reassuring sign. Anthony was the leader of Jim Kim and Carol Folt’s laughable Strategic Planning Initiative. Do you remember that multi-year, multi-multi-committee effort? The one whose results were announced a little over two years ago, and hasn’t been heard from since. The one that didn’t even pass muster for its grammar and syntax.

How Anthony could have attracted the attention of Provost Dever is beyond me, unless Provost Dever likes to hire the same kind of person as Jim Kim and Carol Folt. Anthony was the Kim/Folt administration’s go-to good girl, and it would not surprise me if she wasn’t bucking for the Dean’s job herself. In any event, the position will likely be filled by a jargon-spouting humanist. And don’t forget diversity and inclusion.

In short, amateur hour is set to continue in the area of student affairs. When will they ever learn?

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