Whitman Searches for New Dean of Students


Illustration by Eric Rannestad

Nick Maahs, Staff Reporter

Illustration by Eric Rannestad

After more than three and a half decades of involvement in the Whitman community, Chuck Cleveland announced last summer that he planned to retire from his post as Dean of Students following the end of this school year. The administration has been aware of this for some time and formed a search committee for Dean Cleveland’s replacement in September of 2016.

Dr. Alzada Tipton, the Provost and Dean of Faculty was selected to head the committee. four students, four members of the student affairs division, two faculty, and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Kazi Joshua make up the rest of the committee. Storebeck/Pimantel & Associates, an executive search firm based out of Philadelphia, is also participating in the hiring process. The use of a search firm is standard practice, particularly here at Whitman. The same firm was used in the hiring of Dr. Tipton as well as for the hiring of the Vice President of Communications and the President, Kathy Murray.

The search committee and the firm focused on spreading the word over the course of the next couple months, even recruiting candidates when necessary.  Soon enough, the search committee assembled a pool of 45 applicants. Next, after reviewing CV’s and cover-sheets, they siphoned up the top 10 applicants from this pool and invited them to Seattle in December for individual interviews. 

“So, you fly into Seattle just for this hour with the search committee and you have an hour where the first fifty minutes we ask questions and the last ten it’s candidates who get to ask questions of us,” Dr. Tipton said. “We, the search committee, sit in a room for two days and interview people from eight in the morning until five at night.”

Though it was exhausting, this process helped facilitate the involvement of a more representative group of Whitman students, faculty and staff.

Sophomore Fathi Assegaf is a student who served on the committee.

“The students had like a big proportion of the search committee and so, I think, Whitman had a very strong intention to have a powerful student voice in this entire process,” Assegaf said of the interview process

Though the process has been shrouded to a degree to protect the candidates’ privacy, student involvement was a point of emphasis from the outset.

“The fact that we have four students on the search committee is a pretty big deal and it’s definitely pretty clear that students are a priority,” Molly Unsworth another student member of the committee, added.

From the first shortlist of ten candidates, the committee pared the pool down to a final four candidates. The candidates are now midway through the process of individually visiting campus. While here, they have attended Q&A sessions open to the Whitman community. Administration has created an online form and distributed it via email for students to offer their opinions of the candidates. The exact sway these will hold remains unclear, but they will be presented to the committee and President Murray in some form.

“I would think feedback from students would play a very large role, because, basically what’s been happening up until these campus visits was just people in the search committee deliberating within themselves,” Assegaf said.

In these deliberations, the committee was of course focused on finding the best candidate possible. However, given the wide range of responsibilities falling under the umbrella of Dean of Students, this was no small task. When describing an ideal candidate, members of the committee continually pointed to the title itself.

“What we want is someone who wants to have a lot of interaction, really high quality interactions, with students. It’s the point of being in a place that’s 1,500 students rather than 15,000 students … If you’re at a place with 15,000 you never see actual students … You know, you supervise the people who supervise the people who actually interact with the students. And that’s not the way that it works here,” Dr. Tipton said.