Opinion: Senior Staff

With Provost Neil Weissman set to leave his post of Dean of the College and Provost after more than twenty, the President’s Leadership Team will have seen a serious turnover in the last four years. In the last few years the college has seen the President, General Counsel, Vice President for Finance and Administration, Vice President for Advancement, and now Dean of the College and Provost leave their posts. These are all major leadership positions that help guide the planning and strategy of the college. To have so many of them change–and to lose one the longest standing members of senior staff–is troubling and concerning for the direction of Dickinson College. 

Just because these roles have seen change does not mean that all of the institutional knowledge of commitment is gone–I know that there is a slew of experienced administrators that remain. Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions Catherine McDonald Davenport ’87, for instance, has been at the college for decades. And Weissman is not disappearing instantly–he will remain a member of faculty and assist on projects as President John E. Jones III requests. 

On the one hand, the change is good for bringing in fresh ideas and optimistic energy. There is great value to having a changing perspective on how to meet the challenges that the college faces as an institution. Higher education is constantly evolving, so having new voices and experiences behind projects is valuable.

On the other hand, there is something concerning about the fact that so many of the senior administrators are leaving the institution. It is worrying for the status of the college that so many would find other opportunities more interesting. 

Both former President of the College Marjorie Ensign and former Vice President for Finance and Administration Bronte Burleigh-Jones left because of personal connections to the employer they joined. Ensign had served previously at the American University of Nigeria and felt called to join again since they had been without a president for six months. Burleigh-Jones took on a position similar to her role at Dickinson but at American University, her alma mater. It’s understandable that these projects would motivate someone to leave the college–these are meaningful projects for those two and no one would begrudge them for leaving.

But I hope the college is trying to cultivate a mission that entices people to stay with the institution and committed to the goals here. Dickinson needs to be an attractive location for talented faculty and staff, and part of that is a sense of meaningfulness in the work.

As a large group of new senior staff come into the college–especially in so many senior positions–there will inevitably be differences in the vision for the college and understanding of the people who are part of it. Weissman was a member of the Dickinson faculty for years before beginning his role as administrator and had deep connections to the faculty he helped represent. Jones said in the announcement that there will be a nationwide search for Weissman’s replacement, and I doubt that someone from outside the college can replicate the understanding of the college that Weissman had. 

Weissman’s service as the Dean of the College and Provost has been tremendous and it is good to know that he will not be leaving the college. I hope that his presence continues to guide the direction of the college, but I also hope that in this nationwide search for his replacement we find someone similarly committed to Dickinson’s faculty and students.