College should try harder to retain employees

In light of the recent departures of Lili Rodriguez, former dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development, and Amer Ahmed, former director of the intercultural center and dean of the sophomore class, and anticipating the imminent departure of Mike Elias, current assistant director of student activities and leadership, we at the Phoenix feel that the college needs to better ensure the retention of its administrative employees who are most intimately involved with the lives of students on campus.

Rodriguez, Ahmed, and Elias each profoundly affected the college community, orchestrating meaningful events and activities and developing important, personal connections with students. At a school as small as Swarthmore, these links between students and administrators are key to accurately understanding student interests and actualizing the programs and services that best respond to student needs. The representative role that such deans play is integral to the organization of a college experience that is attentive to student concerns and provides a high quality of life on campus. By not guaranteeing the longevity of these administrators’ tenures in their positions, the college is undermining its best chance of understanding student wants and desires, as each new crop of administrators must go through the lengthy process of developing new connections with students.

Further, the retention of such employees is incredibly important for the preservation of institutional memory amongst those who hold such key positions. The replacements found for Rodriguez, Ahmed, and Elias will have no conception of recent turning points in campus culture such as the ‘Spring of our Discontent’. How can they be expected to have a comprehensive and nuanced view of student life without understanding the experience of those students who attended the college during that Spring or understanding the way in which that Spring has impacted college policy since?

While we understand completely that Dean Ahmed left due to an unforeseeable personal matter, and we offer him our full support in his decision, the departure of deans Rodriguez and Elias are emblematic of a culture of short-lived administrative stints at the college by those employees most responsible for voicing student needs, representing student interests, and serving as a resource for the individual students with which they connect on a personal level. Ultimately, it seems antithetical to the college’s alleged promotion of a close-knit campus community that comprises administrators, staff, faculty, and students, to do so little to maintain such integral employees. We hope that in the future the college can install a policy of longer contracts and larger incentives that will encourage the retention of such key players in the organization of each student’s college experience.

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