College needs to promote dean continuity

We, members of the Phoenix, and our readers belong to a transient community by nature. Every four years, the student body is replaced and the alumni network grows larger. It is partly because of this rapidly changing student community that the institutional structure of Parrish Hall needs to avoid this same transience and maintain consistency. Unfortunately, it is no secret that administrative retention in the Dean’s Division of Swarthmore is not our College’s strongest selling point.

What frustrates many in the Swarthmore community is this: the administrators who most actively support the student body often spend less time here than us students, making both growth and continuity for both roles a challenge. This is particularly well-known to students of color and those of historically marginalized identities. Over the past five years, the Intercultural Center has seen enthusiastic administrative leaders circle quickly through their doors (Rafael Zapata, Alina Wong, Amer Ahmed, Jason Rivera, Mo Lotif, to name a few). This comes at a particularly poignant time — the IC intends to celebrate its 25th Anniversary this year, yet has little institutional memory beyond what students have dug up. We currently do not have an IC Director and yet another search is underway, only one year after last year’s search.

The trend does not stop here. In recent memory, the Interfaith community has said goodbye to Rabbi Adam Lavitt; Student Disabilities Services has said goodbye to Leslie Hempling; the Student Wellness Committee has said goodbye to Noemí Fernández; the Diversity Peer Advisors have said goodbye to Karina Beras and Heather Loring Albright; and the Title IX and the Women’s Resource Center have said goodbye to Nina Harris, Kaaren Williamsen, and Becca Bernstein. This is not an exhaustive list. As Swarthmore faces national and international scrutiny on issues such as sexual assault, we lack consistent leadership in this sphere.

The reasons for each of these community members leaving the College are nuanced and unique in their own right. The Phoenix wishes all former employees well, and hope that they find satisfaction in their new endeavors, however far removed from the College. Where we would like to turn our focus is to the trend itself: what disincentivizes employees from staying? We are sure that this is an internal matter the Dean’s Division greatly considers — but it is certainly not a transparent issue discussed between those in leadership with those most affected by this change. Clearly, there is a structural problem in the Dean’s office.

The Phoenix, as articulated in our last staff editorial, is thinking increasingly about our collective commitment to community. We have heard from students, faculty, and staff alike that high turnover correlates to low trust in the Dean’s Office. At times, students return at the start of an academic semester, or even a short break, and find that the administrators who serve as pillars in bridging the gaps between students and the rest of the community have left. This is the subject not only of social media memes but jaded discourse about this institution itself.

At the Phoenix, we would like to see effective administrators better satisfied in their roles, as well as the hiring of new employees who are incentivized to stay long term — especially when they are widely accepted as effective among the student body. Support matters greatly to framing one’s experience in the four years that they are here. Swarthmore, as our community, needs and deserves stability beyond just administrators at the very top of the Parrish hierarchy. The college as an institution has a responsibility to foster a work environment for staff that encourages them to remain at Swarthmore and become part of the institution.

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