Soon after Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 returned to campus last year as part of the committee reviewing Yale’s sexual culture, administrators said they knew they wanted to give her a job.
But first, they had to create one.
“It was more thinking ‘Well, if we brought her back, how would we structure a position?’ ” University President Richard Levin said of administrators’ hopes to bring Goff-Crews back to Yale after more than a decade working as a student life administrator at Lesley University, Wellesley College and the University of Chicago.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”2837″ ]
Goff-Crews had temporarily returned to Yale last April to serve on Yale’s Marshall Committee, which was appointed shortly after a Title IX complaint was filed against the University. Even though Levin said he had been thinking about recruiting Goff-Crews since last spring, he did not approach her with an offer until after the committee released its report, he said, because he did not want to affect the outcome.
But soon after the report came out on Nov. 10, Levin said he gave her a phone call. Administrators thought that Goff-Crews’ current role at Chicago as vice president for campus life would translate well to Yale’s structure, Levin said. Together, they designed a new role: vice president for student life.
But to help provide incentive, Levin said the administration felt they needed to make the appointment a “growth experience” and offered the title of University secretary.
“We thought it desirable, especially in the wake of the Title IX claims to have better University-wide coordination in student affairs and student activities,” he said, adding that hiring Goff-Crews “seemed a good opportunity to combine those functions: student affairs and secretary.”
Within six weeks, Goff-Crews accepted the position.
“It is Yale, it is my home institution, I love what it stands for, and what it’s been able to do for students,” Goff-Crews said. “The opportunity to come back was one that I really cherished.”
In addition to graduating from Yale College and Yale Law School, Goff-Crews also served as assistant dean and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center from 1992-’98, all of which made her an attractive candidate, Levin said. The details of her job remain to be determined, but both Yale and University of Chicago officials said they believe Goff-Crews’s commitment to working personally with others throughout the University will be of major benefit to student life on campus.
As vice president for campus life at the University of Chicago, Goff-Crews created a reputation for relentlessly seeking student opinion, something students and administrators said led to success with several major projects.
“She is very, very interested in being sure she has a thorough and complete understanding of the school, and she gets that from the staff and students around her,” said Eleanor Daugherty, assistant vice president for student life at Chicago. “And if she feels like that’s missing, she’ll find ways to find it.”
Daugherty recalled that when Goff-Crews arrived at Chicago, she went on a “pizza tour,” stopping by the different residential houses with free pizza in an attempt to meet students and begin to understand the issues on campus.
Her leadership style, marked by an effort to meet, consult and understand students, began not at Chicago, but early in her career. Soon to be Yale’s first black officer, Goff-Crews spent time as a student in organizations such as the Afro-American Cultural Center, describing herself as “very active” in the Yale community.
Margaret Homans, a professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department who taught Goff-Crews in a feminist literature class, noted that Goff-Crews stood out as a “quick thinker” and “very articulate.”
Immediately after graduating from Yale Law School, she worked as a bankruptcy lawyer and volunteered with a non-profit that helped send women to college, experiences that she said revealed her commitment to helping others find as much value as she did in education.
“I knew I wanted to be able to do things that really helped students think about educational life,” she said.
On the day she paid off her final student loan, Goff-Crews received a fax from Yale, asking her to serve as assistant dean of Yale College. She immediately accepted.
After six years, in 1998, Goff-Crews left Yale for a position at Lesley University as chief of staff and director of planning in the office of the president, which she said emphasized faculty relations as opposed to her student-focused job at Yale. Both in her subsequent jobs at Wellesley College and at Chicago, Daugherty said Goff-Crews continued to strive for a “culture of consultation.”
When Meher Kairon, vice president of student affairs on Chicago’s student government, first met Goff-Crews, she said she was impressed by Goff-Crews’ willingness to help see projects through with any student.
Kairon recalled emailing Goff-Crews “about a small issue” she had encountered even before becoming vice president: “She got back to me in the week itself, which I found very surprising,” Kairon said, adding that Goff-Crews offered to meet to discuss the issue.
“You don’t often see that at a high level of administration at any school,” Kairon said.
She added that Goff-Crews worked closely with students, administrators and a newly appointed head of student health to make the mental health services at Chicago more efficient for students.
While consultation may allow Goff-Crews to take many opinions into account, some students have complained the process prevents quick and decisive action.
William Zapata, former president of a Chicago fraternity, said fraternities at the school had at times felt frustrated by the ambiguous stance the university took toward fraternities. He described Goff-Crews as having “no intent of consistent, hard line objectives.”
In a 2009 profile by the University of Chicago student newspaper, the Maroon, several students said that while they felt represented, Goff-Crews’ adherence to consensus building could take too long at times. In the article, Goff-Crews’ defended her actions, explaining to the reporter that this was simply the way she makes a decision.
Still, the ability to affect everything from student health to the registrar’s office and student housing was one of the strengths of working under Goff-Crews, Daugherty said.
“There’s nothing in student life that we can’t think about within her organization,” she said. said Goff-Crews will face similar issues to those she found upon arriving at Chicago, where student life was skewed towards the college rather than the graduate and professional schools. Goff-Crews said she did not know exactly what her specific duties would be once she arrives on campus, but both she and Levin want to wait for her arrival before outlining specific goals.
“Basically I believe you have to go into an institution and talk to the students first,” she said. “I will be thinking about the entire student body, including graduate and professional school students.”
While the details remain unclear, Levin said that Goff-Crews will oversee a committee of the deans of student life across Yale, a task that requires the ability to “forge a sense of community across the University.”