By Gianluca D’Elia
Since November, a committee made up of students, faculty and administrators has been conducting a search for a new vice president of student affairs (VPSA).
This is the first time students have been involved in the process of hiring a Rider employee from the beginning of the search, according to Provost DonnaJean Fredeen.
“Right now, with our engaged learning program and the vision to build a vibrant living and learning community, we need somebody who can really give the attention that is needed to student affairs,” said Fredeen, explaining the need for a VPSA. “I think it’s important for our students and student life on campus to have someone whose sole focus is student affairs, who won’t have to divide their time.”
The VPSA will be a member of President Gregory Dell’Omo’s cabinet and will lead student affairs assessments from year to year, supervise student affairs organizations such as residence and campus life, and work closely with academic affairs to connect in- and out-of-classroom experiences, said Fredeen.
The VPSA position is commonly found at other universities around the nation, but this will be the first time Rider has one.
“As long as the new VPSA sees motivating more students to become engaged as a top priority, their position gives them the ability to make a real difference in those areas,” said Student Government Association (SGA) President Ryan Hopely.
Regarding the search process, Hopely said, “Students have interviewed job candidates before, but there’s never been a student who was part of a full search committee in the past.”
“It makes perfect sense to have the people the VP will be working with on the committee,” Fredeen said. “It’s been great. They’ve been very vocal and made certain that the student perspective is represented. We video-interviewed a group of candidates to determine who we’d bring to campus, and every one of them knew to ask the students a question.”
Westminster SGA Secretary Gillian Erlenborn, a member of the committee, said allowing students to be part of the process “is a great way to ensure that the candidates for the job are going to work well with our community.”
“This position is going to require a lot of interaction with students, and I know that it will take an understanding of how students here at Rider University live and learn,” Erlenborn said.
Erlenborn said she hopes the new VPSA can implement positive changes across both campuses and “help ease the stresses of the Westminster students” in the midst of the March 28 announcement that Rider would search for a new institution to take over Westminster.
“We’ve had a really hard year, and I know next year will be difficult as well,” Erlenborn said. “I hope the [VPSA] is able to connect with students on our campus to give them another source to reach out to if they have questions.”
The search committee worked with William Spelman Executive Search, a recruitment firm, to narrow down 14 people who were qualified for the position, according to Fredeen. From there, the search committee narrowed the group down to eight, and then to the final three.
The last step of the process includes interviews and open forums with students. So far, one of the candidates has been to both campuses for two days worth of interviews and open student forums, followed by a dinner with members of Rider and Westminster’s SGA executive boards. The second candidate is visiting campus this week, and the last candidate is coming to visit at the end of April, Fredeen said.
At a forum on April 6 with candidate Georj Lewis, who is currently the VPSA at Armstrong University in Savannah, Georgia, a group of seven students, mostly from SGA, expressed concerns about how to get students more engaged, both in campus activities and in social issues that are commonly discussed on college campuses.
“Right now, Rider students are not regularly and broadly asked to empathize with people of identities unlike their own,” said SGA Vice President John Modica. “I think a VPSA can improve the university’s focus on social justice by making questions of inclusion, privilege, and bias a foundation of our university experience. That comes through making diversity an aspect of our new student programming, core curriculums, and first-year seminars, to name a few.”
Fredeen said the new vice president’s work will often overlap with hers as she prepares a revamped, more intensive engaged learning program for the upcoming academic year, which involves a graduation requirement for students to earn six credits worth of engaged learning through campus involvement or employment, internships and attending Rider events, Fredeen said. This will only be applied to the incoming freshman class, not current students.
Fredeen said a final decision on the new VPSA will be made by late May or early June, and the chosen candidate will most likely start working at Rider by July 1.