Keep Calm and Call the Dean of Students

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Anne G. Flaherty, Ph.D., Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Wellness, Washington University in St. Louis

June 27, 2019

Dr. Art Munin, Acting Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and Dr. Lori White, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, and former NASPA Board Chair, are co-editors of the book, “Keep Calm and Call the Dean of Students, A Guide to Understanding the Many Facets of the Dean of Student’s Role”, scheduled to be released July 2019 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. I had the privilege of co-authoring chapter 5, Dean on Call: Life Skills for the Effective Dean of Students, with Dr. Rob Wild, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Transition and Engagement & Dean of Students at Washington University in St. Louis. This blog reflects a written interview with the editors about their inspiration for this book, changes in higher education that have impacted the Dean of Students (DOS) role, and advice for those currently or aspiring to the DOS role.

What was the inspiration for the book? 

Art Munin, a former DOS at three different institutions, described his primary inspiration for the book coming from his service on the NASPA AVP Steering Committee and as a faculty member of the AVP Institute . Through those two initiatives, Munin saw first hand how individuals serving in the DOS role were looking for opportunities to connect with one another. Specifically, he described hosting a breakfast at the 2018 AVP Institute on the role of DOS that exceeded the capacity of those wanting to attend. Lori White noted there has only been one previous book written about the DOS role, “Pieces of Eight” by Jim Appleton et al., published over forty years ago in 1978. Further, White describes, “Given the importance of the Dean of Students role on most campuses and our hypothesis that the role has probably evolved and changed since 1978, we thought it was time that there be a more recent publication about the Dean of Students”.           

What do you believe are the most significant changes that have impacted the role of Dean of Students?  

The landscape of higher education and student issues have become much more complex. Vice Presidents for Student Affairs often have larger portfolios resulting in more of the daily interaction with students delegated to the DOS. Often the DOS is the most forward student facing administrator on-campus. Because of this change, the DOS  is viewed as the “catch all” office. The skill set for a DOS must be comprehensive to address the breadth and depth of student challenges presented. Specifically, Munin states that those serving as a DOS “have to find creative and thoughtful solutions to difficult issues while keeping student care and success at the forefront”. Further, the demographic shifts on campuses means there is a wider diversity of students attending college with unique needs for attention and support. As a result of this shift, White explains “the diversity of our student body also brings challenges with respect to how community is experienced (or not) among our diverse student bodies”.

Recognizing that the DOS is at the “center of it all”, the emphasis on the DOS position and the person who occupies this role can be crucial. For example, the DOS plays an essential role with respect to campus community and its many facets including community formation; articulating community values; and upholding standards. Moreover, White posits that the DOS serves as the “moral compass” for the campus. In the closing chapter, she elaborates on this idea by describing the core function of the DOS is to “facilitate the ethical and character development of students and to role model and reinforce the institutional values of our campuses through the dean’s interaction with students and as a part of the decision-making on issues that impact student life”.

What advice do you have for individuals considering a Dean of Students role?

For those currently in the DOS role, this book is for you! For those aspiring to be a DOS, this book is also for you! Leading as a DOS requires attention to one’s self-care and strategies for work-life integration (see chapter 5 for more details!) because the DOS role can be physically, mentally, emotionally taxing and typically requires 24-7 on call responsibilities. Moreover, burn out and vicarious trauma are prevalent among those serving as a DOS.

Recognizing the DOS role may look different based on institutional type, one should consider this to ensure the best fit. However, for many in the DOS role, the ability to work closely with students and to serve as a student advocate has the reward of assisting students in achieving their hopes and dreams.

Reserve your copy of the book today by clicking here.

Anne G. Flaherty, Ph.D.
Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Wellness, Washington University in St. Louis


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