This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on April 14.
Burgwell “Burgie” Howard, Northwestern University’s current assistant vice president for student engagement, will leave his current post at the end of the school year for a newly created position at Yale focused on student engagement and well-being.
In an email to the Yale community Monday morning, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews announced that Howard will come to Yale in August. Once on campus, he will collaborate with Holloway’s and Goff-Crews’s offices and play an integral role in planning for the two new residential colleges.
“I recognize that this expansion of the undergraduate student body is historic, and that was part of the appeal for me: to be part of a really positive transition for the University,” Howard told the News. “I think it’s going to be very manageable, but I also recognize there is a history and an understanding of how people have operated Yale for 300 years, and we want to do this with grace, in a way that is in keeping with who Yale is.”
The email from Holloway and Goff-Crews did not specify Howard’s exact title. But in an email to the Northwestern community last week, Patricia Telles-Irvin, Northwestern’s vice president for student affairs, said he will serve as associate vice president for student engagement and senior associate dean of the college. Holloway could not be reached for additional comment Monday.
While at Northwestern, Howard oversaw aspects of student life ranging from multicultural affairs to religious and Greek life. Before his 10 years in Evanston, Ill., Howard also held positions at Dartmouth College, Santa Clara University, Colgate University and Bowdoin College. The size of Yale’s student body is a “happy medium” for Howard, he said, blending the ambition and creativity of a large research university like Northwestern with the intimacy of a smaller liberal arts school like Bowdoin.
Julia Watson, a senior at Northwestern and president of its Associated Student Government, praised Howard’s commitment to connecting with students instead of simply attending programming or leading meetings. Junior Nick Crance, president of Northwestern’s chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, said he has sought advice from Howard regarding his fraternity, and that Howard conveyed the depth of his care for students.
Howard said he does not yet have concrete plans for the expansion of Yale College because he hopes to first solicit community input after his arrival in New Haven before formulating any ideas. But he added that his priority is to ensure a level of consistency across the residential college experience, regardless of where students are placed. Additionally, Howard said, he wants to help Yale look in new directions when shaping policy, noting that after 25 years working in university administration, he has gained awareness of trends in higher education and is eager to implement new ideas from institutions across the country.
“Oftentimes, the Ivy League schools do not look beyond the Ancient Eight for ideas, and in many cases, they’re not actually doing some of the most innovative work in the country,” he said. “For the amount of money that we charge at these schools, students deserve the best that we can offer. If the best is something that is being done at a Big Ten school or a Pac-12 school or a community college, and [it] can be done in a way that is consistent with the culture of [Yale’s] campus, we should definitely take advantage of that.”
The email, which comes just weeks after the announcement that Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry will leave Yale at the end of this year, made clear that Howard is not a replacement for Gentry.
Instead, Yale College will conduct a nationwide search for Gentry’s successor in the coming months, with the help of the Yale College Council and the rest of the student body. In fact, Howard said that while he was initially interviewing for the position, he was under the impression that he would be working alongside Gentry, whom he has known professionally for several years. Gentry did not return request for comment Monday.
Goff-Crews did not speak to how student life responsibilities will be divided among Howard, herself and Gentry’s replacement. However, she said she is excited to work with Howard on behalf of the student community in general, and the undergraduate population in particular.
Howard added that he was not involved in the decision to create a new student life administrative position. The email explained that Howard will work with the new dean of student affairs on broad issues of student life.
Howard’s wife, Northwestern psychology professor Jennifer Richeson, will join Yale’s Psychology Department in 2016.