College Dean of Students

I loved my experiences as an Air Force Chaplain. As I was up for re-assignment and promotion, and most options in the future would have placed me primarily in staff positions. When my undergraduate college was in search of a new Dean of Students…the position appeared to offer many of the avenues I had cherished in the Air Force but was likely to spend significantly less time with in the career progression before me. Plus, the Dean’s role offered other possibilities as well…including working with a religious community united around a common center.

Dunk-a-Dean Fund Raiser (it was my idea)

Like the student life deans at other religious colleges, in addition to being responsible for student health, discipline, and safety issues, residential living facilities and experience, campus social life (including diversity and sexual harassment training), and counseling services, my female co-dean and I were responsible for nurturing the character education and spiritual development of the student body.

In the two decades since my own graduation from the college the makeup of the student body had become far less homogenous. The student body was far more international, and ethnically and racially diverse. Although coming from the same church tradition, the practices within that denominational community were more varied…as were the family and financial backgrounds. More students needed to work on campus, as I had done.

The diffusion of student backgrounds, and the traditional forms of religious practice still dominant at the College, often led to a dissonance between what students expected and what they experienced in the life of the College community.

Helping prospective students know more about the expectations of the College regarding the selected standards it had long championed seemed a place to start.

If, after knowing those expectations, a student chose to attend the College, then helping them grow in understanding the spiritual center or ground of their chosen community would be helpful. If they struggled, or failed, at adherence to the College’s standards for behavior, we wondered how could we provide truly effective counseling support to them. If necessary, how could our disciplinary processes be more fair and transparent.

So we initiated a

  • very open, non-judgmental, discussion of the community with prospective students so they would know what they were entering into if they chose our college
  • totally re-conceived our way of introducing new students to the community through a new housing design, a mentoring program, and a range of student-created orientation programs for new students
  • confidential counseling service extended to students struggling with the religious standards on campus
  • a new student disciplinary process involving a review of cases by a community board with a range of consequences

When I left the College the changes had found their value in a student body more aligned with the character of the social standards and spiritual goals of the community and – according to survey independent of our department – more happy with their choice of college experience.