After National Search Proves Unfruitful, Terhune is Made Dean

Parrish September 11, 2018 on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA. (Photo by Emma Ricci-De Lucca ’21)

On Monday President Val Smith announced that Jim Terhune, Interim Dean of Students, will be Dean of Students through at least the spring of 2021. This announcement comes after a year-long, national search to find a replacement for Dean Braun, who resigned amidst controversy at the end of last year.

Terhune was not considered as a candidate during this search process, and was asked to assume the role after the search failed to yield a candidate President Smith deemed suitable for the position.

The search for the Dean of Students was lead by a selection committee made up of students, faculty, and staff, and chaired by Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton. The consulting firm Isaacson Miller guided the committee, and President Smith was informed of the work at every step of the process.

The search went as follows:

Isaacson Miller provided the committee with an initial batch of candidate materials, from which the committee selected a number of quarter-finalists to interview. The committee then chose six candidates to bring to President Smith’s attention, of which she selected three to come to campus as finalists.

Before spring break, each finalist arrived on campus for a day and a half. They met with a broad set of the community: committee members, students, staff, faculty, the president’s senior staff, and staff in the Dean of Students division. All who met with the finalists were invited to provide the president and the committee chair with feedback. The president also called candidates’ references.

Though none of the finalists were selected, students felt the search was fruitful.

“I had one candidate in mind that I thought was worthy of the position, but I’m a student and can only speak from the student’s perspective. I’m sure there were things I was not aware of,” said SGO President-elect and selection-committee member Kat Capossela.

The final decision is up to the President.

“Ultimately, though incredibly capable and accomplished at their present institutions, no one candidate had the right mix of qualities needed in this critical role at this time,” President Smith wrote to The Phoenix.

According to Terhune, the idea of him moving from the Interim role to Dean of Students was first broached a few weeks ago. His family lives elsewhere, and the decision took consideration.

“Term appointment. I’m doing this for two more years. I want to be clear about this. I wasn’t a candidate this time, and at this point don’t have any expectation or plans to be a candidate next time,” Terhune said.

As he was not a candidate for the role, Terhune did interact with the finalists as senior staff.

President Smith notes Terhune was not seeking the job.

“He did not express interest in the permanent position until I asked him to continue to serve while we paused the search,” she wrote.

Capossela is confident in Terhune’s ability as Dean of Students.

“I have personally met with him every other week for an hour or so to talk about student concerns. I think that’s the first time in recent history SGO and the Dean have made that kind of connection.”

Terhune notes two main objectives for next year. The first is to incorporate students into policy decisions.

“What’s really jumped out at me is the absence of a codified role for students in the process of shaping in particular the rules and policies that govern students lives. I think it influences a lot of the way things unfold on campus,” Terhune said.

He intends to form a committee of students, faculty, and staff to centralize decision-making around student policies.

The second is to ensure we have healthier forms of activism.

“If we are in fact committed to the notion of justice and human dignity and respect, that starts here with how we treat each other and how we come to each other in difficult moments and difficult conversations.”

The college will resume a national search for the next dean in the fall of 2020.

Keton Kakkar ’20

Keton entered Swarthmore with the class of 2019 and graduated with the class of 2020. He double majored in English literature and computer science and was awarded Honors at commencement. A former editor of this newspaper, he was responsible for merging The Daily Gazette with The Phoenix, among other initiatives. He grew up in Sands Point, New York, completed the last two years of his secondary schooling at Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts, and is a member of the class of 2025 at the NYU School of Law.

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