Still No Search Committee for New Dean of Faculty

Brendan Clark ’21

Managing Editor

Gillian Reinhard ’20

Editor-in-Chief

Trinity’s Faculty Conference, an advisory and adjudicatory committee of the faculty, has not yet reached a resolution with Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney on how the process will proceed for identifying a permanent replacement for the position of Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. While the position’s pending vacancy—formerly held by Tim Cresswell—was announced to the community in March, seven months later there have been no announcements regarding the composition or timeline of the search committee as the conclusion of the fall semester approaches.

The Dean of the Faculty occupies an important role at Trinity, overseeing the college’s progress on matters of curriculum, appointments and promotions, and program and course offerings, among other responsibilities. The Dean of the Faculty also possess the ability to make staffing decisions across departments, with the advice of the college’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC).September of this semester.
The Tripod reached out to Secretary of the Faculty and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stater, who chairs Faculty Conference, for comment on the progress of discussions. Stater added that “each search is unique” and indicated that “we’ve been more focused on process than on moving quickly.” Stater did not provide specifics on the discussions that had occurred at particular meetings. Stater did confirm that more information would be provided to the Trinity community regarding plans for a search in November.

Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas confirmed Stater’s comments, telling the Tripod that “the president and faculty conference have been holding productive work sessions to determine the make-up of the search committee and the process for identifying the best external search firm to support the search.” Rojas added that “their collective goal is to provide more information to the campus community in November.” Stater also told the Tripod that the faculty were having “productive conversations with the president.” Rojas confirmed that Faculty Conference met with Berger-Sweeney on Friday, Oct. 25, but did not provide specifics of the meeting discussions.

Berger-Sweeney’s Mar. 14 email last spring indicated that Cresswell would assume a new professorship in Scotland on July 1. The president’s email noted that “the future academic leadership of the college is, of course, a primary consideration.” Several weeks later, Berger-Sweeney announced the appointment of Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation and Dean of Academic Affairs Sonia Cardenas to serve as Interim Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, a role she previously shared with former Academic Dean Melanie Stein during the 2015-2016 academic year. Cardenas spoke to the Tripod and indicated that she intends to apply for the position once it is formally advertised.

A search for a new Dean of the Faculty is a demanding process for the college to undertake. Most recently, Trinity recruited Cresswell in 2016 after an extensive search process. A letter from Berger-Sweeney in the spring of 2016 informed the community that the process to find Cresswell, an external candidate, was led by a search committee of seven professors over the course of about six months. To confirm the general procedure for finding a new Dean of the Faculty, the Tripod reached out to a retired faculty member familiar with the process.

According to the retired faculty member, the Dean of the Faculty position is “relatively new,” as the first person to hold the title was chosen in 1968 to succeed the “Dean of the College,” which incorporated both academic and administrative responsibilities. Because the position was relatively new, throughout the 1970s and 1980s at Trinity there was little precedent for how a Dean of the Faculty should be identified or chosen.

The first Dean of the Faculty was Robert Fuller, chosen by President Ted Lockwood. Fuller stayed on in the newly created position until 1970. For Fuller’s replacement, Lockwood chose from within Trinity’s faculty and engaged in some kind of search process that may not have included a formal search committee. Lockwood ultimately hired from within the faculty, the final selection being Professor of Engineering Ed Nye, who stayed in the position until 1979. Following Nye’s departure from the position, Andrew DeRocco served as Dean of the Faculty, and was chosen by Lockwood with some deference to faculty preferences. Subsequently, as Professor of History and President Emeritus Borden Painter stepped into the role of Interim Dean of the Faculty under President Jim English’s tenure, Trinity’s faculty deliberated over whether or not it was best to hire for this position from within the faculty or outside of the college.

The retired faculty member who spoke to the Tripod also discussed the search committee that brought Jan Cohn to Trinity in 1987, the first woman to serve as Dean of the Faculty. The Tripod corroborated this retired faculty member’s account of the search process by consulting faculty meeting minutes of the 1980s held by the Watkinson archives. The meeting minutes confirmed that, for this search for an external candidate, the committee included members of the faculty, administration, and two students who conducted rounds of interviews for several candidates. Additionally, the interim dean in that case was not eligible to run for the positon of dean of the faculty under a set of policies for such committees determined by the faculty.

Following Cohn’s departure in 1994, President Tom Gerety appointed an external dean from Loyola College who served for one year, an interim dean from amongst the Trinity faculty, and an external Dean of the Faculty from Williams College. In 1999, Trinity Professor of Philosophy Miller Brown was made interim dean by President Evan Dobelle. Brown continued as interim dean, during which time no formal plans were made to replace him. Brown stepped down in 2004 and was replaced by another interim dean chosen from amongst Trinity’s faculty, Associate Professor of Religious Studies Frank Kirkpatrick.

Thereafter, another search committee was formed in 2005, composed of faculty participants that interviewed and recommended candidates to then-President Jimmy Jones. This ultimately resulted in the hiring of Rena Fraden, who served from 2005-2013. Fraden was thereafter replaced by Tom Mitzell, who served until 2015. The faculty member indicated that there was “an enormous amount of turnover” in the position of Dean of the Faculty since its inception at Trinity. Generally interim deans were chosen from within the Trinity faculty, while permanent hiring for the position of Dean of the Faculty occurred through multi-constituent search committees, which recommended candidates to the President of the College.

To find promising candidates, the college was continually forced to undertake a long and thorough vetting process. However, “the degree of experience [at Trinity] with a search committee process is limited,” added the retired faculty member. In most instances, however, the departure of a Dean of Faculty would be followed by the announcement of a search committee within three to five weeks. The faculty member observed that, in this context, a seven-month gap between the announcement of a departure and the creation of a search committee was highly unusual considering Trinity’s institutional history.