By Jake Tiger
Provost DonnaJean Fredeen sat down for another routine meeting on Sept. 15 to check in with the multifaceted Dean Jason Barr.
“Going into that meeting I was feeling nervous, because I genuinely enjoyed my time at Rider,” said Barr. “There’s always that concern of how someone is going to take that news.”
Barr, the longtime dean of the College of Education and Services, also became the interim dean of libraries in March after the position was vacated, but now, he was the one stepping away just months later.
Fredeen recited, “I said to him, ‘How are things?’ He said ‘OK,’ and then he just said, ‘I’m leaving Rider.’”
Barr gave his two-weeks notice and officially left Rider on Sept. 29 for a job at Columbia University, leaving two empty spaces in the administration as the dean of libraries door revolves once more.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Professor-Librarian Melissa Hofmann of Barr’s resignation. “People are doing at least two jobs, if not more, so it’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t see how anybody would feel comfortable or competent to be taking on additional roles that I’m sure they’re not getting compensated adequately for.”
The library now reports directly to the provost, while Assistant Provost Christina Hamme will serve as interim dean of CEHS, according to a university-wide email on Oct. 4 announcing Barr’s departure.
According to Fredeen, Barr became associate provost of Teachers College, Columbia University.
The university will permanently combine both of Barr’s positions going forward and fill both dean vacancies with one person, but the search likely will not begin until fall 2024, Fredeen said.
“I really am very appreciative of all that [Barr] did for us at Rider,” said Fredeen. “The leadership of his college and even the leadership of the library for the last nine months … he was just tremendous.”
Hofmann and Associate Professor-Librarian Sharon Whitfield, who were informed of the resignation on Sept. 19, worked closely with Barr after the March departure of Matthew Stieglitz, the former associate provost who oversaw the library as well.
According to Hofmann and Whitfield, they and Barr tried to make the most of the situation, but could only accomplish so much given his lack of library expertise – a problem they’ve become accustomed to.
“We’ve spent so much time talking to interim deans who have no library background and don’t know about basic functions of the library,” said Hofmann. “Without a dean that is informed about what an academic library does and how our processes work, they can’t advocate for us or suggest that we shift and pivot to a service that would better align with what the university needs.”
To ease its fiscal struggles, many of Rider’s empty positions have been assigned to existing employees, giving them an additional set of responsibilities.
According to Fredeen, Rider has also not started a search for Stieglitz’s replacement, and the associate provost’s responsibilities are being dispersed to a number of people at the university, including Fredeen.
A search for a new associate provost will also begin fall 2024, barring ongoing financial restraints, Fredeen said.
“I would love to be able to do a search for an associate provost,” said Fredeen. “But that is something that is put on hold right now until we get things straightened down, and really feel comfortable with where we are with the financial issues of the institutions.”
Hofmann and Whitfield said the university’s cost-saving strategy of combining roles could do more harm than good, because it divides attention and people often need to step outside of their specializations.
Conversely while Barr agreed that adapting to his new position was “frustrating” at times, he acknowledged the value of an outside perspective, as a fresh set of eyes is more likely to question long-standing, potentially inefficient operations.
“I think that while it’s difficult and sometimes frustrating, I think that it could be a unique challenge,” said Barr. “Going into a new situation – the library, for example – and asking, ‘Why?’”
The dean of libraries role has seen significant turnover since 2020 following the departure of Rick Riccardi, who also served in multiple roles at Rider, acting as senior associate provost, dean of libraries and chief information officer.
According to Hofmann and Whitfield, Riccardi was the last person to occupy the dean of libraries office on the second floor of Moore Library.
The vacant office now serves as a virtual reality studio with rows of headsets behind the barron desk.
“I’m very optimistic that they’ll find somebody who will provide us some vision,” said Whitfield, seated in the empty office. “There definitely needs to be some clear leadership, and some clear stability. … I think we’re going to continue to struggle as an organization to really find our identity.”