Dean’s job shifts to focus on diversity

As Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg prepares to depart, the committee charged with replacing her must fill a position that has evolved to keep pace with a Yale community grown increasingly diverse since Trachtenberg was hired over two decades ago.

Several administrators said the creation two years ago of a Dean of Freshmen Affairs position — whose responsibilities previously belonged to the student affairs dean — has given Trachtenberg more time to spend on other areas, particularly issues involving diversity and tolerance on campus. The committee designated with finding Trachtenberg’s successor includes students and professors representing a wide range of interests and backgrounds, and the committee’s chair said sensitivity to minority and gender concerns will be an important factor in selecting the next dean.

The appointments of deans for Yale’s various cultural centers, which are overseen by Trachtenberg, have been part of a broadening of the student affairs dean’s job to include more focus on issues of campus diversity, Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said. The greater focus on minority concerns has been necessitated by increasingly frequent incidents of intolerance nationally, Meeske said, and while identifying the sources of that trend is “guess work,” he speculated that it may have something to do with the higher numbers of minorities now attending college and the tensions that arise during times of war.

“There are many more minority students on the campus now than there were 20 years ago, so that’s a bigger part of the job,” he said. “During the Vietnam War there was more protest … Sometimes a war may produce certain kinds of actions.”

The Yale College Dean’s Office is hiring a new dean for Native American affairs for next year and is considering modifying the ethnic counselor program as part of its ongoing effort to focus on issues of diversity and accommodation of minority concerns, Meeske said.

Associate Dean of Yale College Jane Edwards, who is chairing the search committee, said she thinks the recent spate of incidents of intolerance on campus is part of a long-term cycle. Although a detailed job description for Trachtenberg’s replacement has not yet been drafted, the committee will look carefully for a candidate who understands the concerns of all Yale students and will be adept at responding to them, Edwards said.

“There are times when these issues are very problematic for institutions and times when things are calmer,” Edwards said. “And I think it’s not just at Yale, but at every campus I know, recent years have produced more incidents of [this kind] than anybody wants to see … It’s very important that the dean of student affairs be the dean of all students.”

Based on its composition, the search committee seems well positioned to judge accurately the needs of Yale’s multifaceted student body while vetting candidates. Among those on the eight-person committee are Department of African American Studies chair Robert Stepto; Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Program of Women’s and Gender Studies Maria Trumpler, who is special adviser to the deans on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues; Josh Williams ’08, the community action chair of the Black Student Alliance at Yale and a founding member of the Coalition for Campus Unity; and Alexandra Suich ’08, who has served with Trachtenberg on the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board for two years.

Trachtenberg said she recommended Williams and Suich for the committee as representatives of the entire student body, not simply because of their affiliations with particular interest groups.

George Levesque, who became Dean of Freshman Affairs at the start of last academic year, said his position was created at the recommendation of the 2003 Committee on Yale College Education in order to ease the burden on Trachtenberg, whose responsibilities had become too expansive. Levesque — who is in charge of freshman orientation, freshman counselors, freshman advising and the freshman seminar program — said the move has enabled Trachtenberg to devote more energy to other issues.

“This allowed the Yale College Dean’s Office to expand what we are doing for freshmen and to allow Dean Trachtenberg to focus on other things,” he said in an e-mail. “She has in particular been able to devote more time to issues of diversity, which will surely be a significant part of the new Dean of Students’ portfolio.”

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said one of the reasons responsibility over freshmen affairs was ceded to a new dean was a belief that the dean of student affairs should have more time to spend on addressing matters of diversity.

“When I became Dean of Yale College, I recognized that with the growing diversity of the Yale student body on nearly any dimensions imaginable (e.g., ethnicity, economic, international), the Dean of Students needed more time to address issues arising from this diversity, including coordinating the assistant deans who direct the various cultural centers,” he said in an e-mail.

While the student affairs dean position may have evolved somewhat as of late, incidents of intolerance have troubled the University for decades and are not specific to the last several years, Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said. He pointed to a case during the 1980s in which a student parodied a gay and lesbian awareness week by posting signs advertising “bestiality awareness” week around campus.

Although recent years have seen Trachtenberg’s increased supervision of the deans who oversee Yale’s various cultural centers, Trachtenberg said she tries to devote her time and energy to a wide range of issues.

“I work with every aspect of student life,” she said. “I respond to issues as they arise. Could I do more? Of course. It’s frustrating that I cannot do more, but I don’t have time to deal with everything.”

Other members of the search committee include Edwards, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon, Assistant to the President Nina Glickson and one other faculty member who has not yet been named.

The committee tentatively plans to begin interviewing candidates for the job by late April and have a recommendation prepared for Salovey by early May, Edwards said. After serving 20 years as student affairs dean, Trachtenberg announced in November that she would be stepping down at the end of this academic year.

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