Author: Lucy Feickert|Kevin Liu
Update: President Jonathan Veitch announced Wednesday that Dean of Students Barbara Avery will be leaving the college at the end of the month to fill the position of Vice Chancellor for Campus Inclusion and Student Life at the University of Michigan-Flint.
Vice President for Student Affairs and former Dean of Students Barbara Avery announced she was leaving her position as dean of students in an email to the campus community Sept. 30. Former Senior Associate Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard replaced Avery as the acting dean of students the following day.
“During the 2015–16 academic year, I will remain Vice President for Student Affairs and will advise the college at its request on various Student Affairs and other strategic matters,” Avery said in the Sept. 30 email.
Howard, who previously served directly under Avery, said her familiarity with the office will allow her to easily step into the role of acting dean of students. According to Avery, Howard has been involved in much of the dean of students work already.
Howard said she is thankful for both Avery’s continued availability as she takes on the role of dean of students and for Avery’s willingness to answer questions from others in the student affairs division.
President Jonathan Veitch does not believe Avery’s transition will impact the operation of the Dean of Students Office and the long-term goals of the department.
“Long-term, our goals haven’t changed,” he said via email. “Consistent with our strategic plan, we want to sustain a residential experience that fosters students’ personal growth and complements what’s happening in the classroom.”
Avery does not plan to leave the college, but she said that the transition will allow her to pursue outside opportunities and focus more attention on specific projects within Student Affairs.
“She had started doing a lot of different things, working on diversity and inclusion,” Howard said.
Avery has been involved in the development of the Black Male Initiative and the First Generation Program. She is also interested in initiatives to support women in leadership and Occidental’s veteran population.
Beyond Occidental, Avery has been working with African American women’s group on a leadership conference.
“People have always asked me to present at conferences, to consult,” Avery said. “I’ve always said, ‘No,’ I couldn’t do it, but now I do it, so I’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails.”
At other institutions, the dean of students title is often separate from the vice president for student affairs and was separate at the time Avery arrived more than 10 years ago, she said.
As solely the vice president for student affairs, Avery is no longer directly supervising staff, according to Howard. Instead, she is working on other projects for the college.
“Sometimes you need to step back from some of the day to day management to really focus on a special initiative or something different,” Howard said. “Management is everyday, all day, and that has to be your priority.”
Avery attributes her change in perspective to personal tragedies in the past few years, including the loss of her husband in 2013 and her mother this past summer.
“I realize that you’re so busy sort of looking out for everyone else, you need to start looking out for yourself and what’s going to make you more fulfilled,” she said.
In retrospect, Avery realized her Sept. 30 email prompted questions about this transition. She said that her email was quick and unclear and left some confused.
“[The transition] was [quick] because a lot of opportunities started coming my way, and I knew that I had to do something, and it was better for me to transfer some of the supervisory experiences I had over to someone else,” Avery said.
Unlike students and faculty, who follow a structured academic year divided by semesters, Avery said administrators can make transitions at any point.
Howard was only made aware of Avery’s transition shortly before the announcement to the campus community and said the timing was surprising.
According to Howard, she does not know if she will become the permanent dean of students in the future or whether she will go back to her previous role as senior associate dean of students. That decision, she said, is up to Veitch.
“I was willing to step into this role because I know Student Affairs as a division well enough to ensure that there’s continuity, that we don’t miss any beats, and so I was glad to do it,” Howard said. “What he wants to do moving forward I honestly don’t know.”
At this time, Howard is unaware of plans to hire any new personnel in the Dean of Students Office to replace her former position. For now, she said her colleagues have stepped up and taken on additional responsibilities.
Avery said she is proud of the Student Affairs team she assembled during her decade of leadership.
“I have an amazingly strong leadership team,” Avery said. “It is the most diverse leadership team at the college, and they’re all really good at what they do.”
The strength of the division allows Avery to feel comfortable stepping back from direct supervision role, she said.
According to Avery, Student Affairs is a dynamic division because the goals or concerns of students are constantly changing. Avery said she does not have specific plans at the moment for what role she will play within the division past this academic year.
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