As Yale College welcomes its most diverse freshman class ever and plans for the opening of two new residential colleges, the Yale College Dean’s Office is working to ensure that its own organizational structure can continue to provide its trademark services while adjusting to meet changing student needs.
This fall, the YCDO welcomed Burgwell Howard, a former student life administrator at Northwestern University, into the newly created role of associate vice president for student life and dean of student engagement. Howard’s appointment, which coincided with an internal review that began last semester, has allowed the office to reapportion growing programs and priorities among senior administrators on both the academic and student affairs sides of the office. Last year, student affairs programs, such as the cultural houses, Greek life and athletics, all fell to former Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry; now, the responsibilities will be split between Howard and Gentry’s eventual successor.
During Gentry’s eight years as dean of student affairs, the size of his portfolio grew significantly, which may have led to this reshuffle in duties, Howard said.
“It didn’t necessarily make perfect sense to have the person in [Gentry’s] role do all that,” Howard said. “Part of the reorganization is to say, here are all the things that the YCDO does, and structurally does it make sense to have these things connected?”
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway agreed, adding that, especially in light of the planning for the new colleges, existing roles were burdened with more and more responsibilities. The division will allow the YCDO to handle both academic as well as student affairs more thoroughly, he added.
After the reorganization, the role of the dean of student affairs, a currently vacant post, will be to supervise the programmatic aspects of student life, such as student organizations, that make up the Yale College experience. The student engagement role is “more about the texture and tone of that experience,” Howard said.
This will include, to a certain extent, shaping the priorities of senior administrators, such as increasing supervision this year of the cultural centers and programming for first-generation college students — two issues that have come to the forefront with the increasing diversification of Yale’s student body. Still, Howard acknowledged that the contours of the position still need to be fleshed out, adding that his focus is “still a moving target.” But he noted that the two new colleges will present a specific challenge: how to preserve the Yale College experience while expanding and changing in innovative ways.
Holloway said Howard’s role fits into his own goals of providing a comprehensive student experience, especially in anticipation of the growth of Yale College.
“Dean Howard’s arrival is also a manifestation of one of my priorities for Yale College — it’s not just about providing the best liberal arts education in the world, but also being first-rate holistically,” Holloway said. “It’s not just about the mind, but it’s about the body.”
Holloway said the structure has been working well so far, though it has been difficult to cover all responsibilities without a dean of student affairs. He hopes to have the position filled by January, he added.
Meanwhile, the academic affairs side of the YCDO has also seen an upgrade in recent months. With veteran YCDO fixture Deputy Dean of Yale College and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon set to depart in January, some administrators’ roles will shift to absorb new programs. Many of Gordon’s responsibilities will fall to new Dean of Undergraduate Education Pamela Schirmeister, who will work alongside Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker in much the same way that Howard will work with the new dean of student affairs.
Schirmeister said she will focus largely on issues of curriculum, while Schenker is more focused on degree management. Holloway explained that while Schenker will focus on guiding students through Yale academically, Schirmeister’s role is about the larger, conceptual and pedagogical side of that experience.
“We’re already running beyond capacity,” Holloway said. “[These administrators] don’t have enough time. So by adding Dean Schirmeister to academic affairs and changing the reporting lines underneath that, we can do academic affairs better.”