Officials dissolve parent services office in student affairs division shuffle

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Olivia Anderson | Contriuting Photo Editor

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said reorganization within the Division of Student Affairs will help staff support students and families.

Updated: June 6, 2016 at 11:13 a.m.

GW is now the only one of its peer universities without an office devoted to parents.

Officials announced last month that as a part of sweeping budget cuts to the University’s central administration, the Office of Parent Services would be dissolved into a new department that includes Colonial Inauguration, the CARE Network, student support and retention, and family outreach. Officials said the changes wouldn’t impact how those offices function, but the shift means some of the University’s most well-known support programs will no longer have their own leaders.

The new department, called Student Support and Family Engagement, is unique among GW’s peers. While many parent programming offices are involved in planning parts of student orientation, the combination of student wellbeing, parent services and orientation under the same umbrella department exists only at GW.

The move will make GW one of its only peer schools not to have a specific office that plans parent programming. Over the past three decades, GW’s parent’s office also offered scholarships for parents to visit their students at school and oversaw a Parents’ Association Advisory Council.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said in an email that the Division of Student Affairs was “excited that this new office will help us bring both students and their families together to provide support and address any concerns quickly and consistently.”

At the time of the announcement, Konwerski said the new structure wouldn’t impact staff’s communication with families and that the new department would continue programs from the parent services office.

“We remain committed to providing services to parents and families and believe this structure will better align staff resources to work with parents and families to support their students through graduation,” he said.

He declined to say whether the changes would leave fewer staff specifically dedicated to parent services, the CARE Network or CI.

Last year, the student affairs division housed 10 separate departments, ranging from housing to student health to career services and student conduct.

This is the first year in a planned five years of budget cuts to the University’s central offices. In December, University President Steven Knapp announced that all central administrative units would have to slash their budgets by 3 to 5 percent each year for the next five years.

Impact on student support
Ellis Gardner, a member of the Parents’ Association Advisory Council, said he didn’t think the transition would negatively impact the group.

“The function is going to be the same,” he said. “There’s no question that we have commitment from the administration.”

Gardner added that former Parent Services Director Andrew Sonn, who will now head both the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, was “overqualified” for his previous position and said his promotion would be a “great thing for the University.”

Incoming Council President John Wiles and several other members of the council did not return requests for comment.

The move to dissolve the parent services office comes about a year after its founder and longtime leader Rodney Johnson left his position. Johnson launched the parent services office at GW about three decades ago.

The office shuffle is also the latest change to GW’s landmark orientation program, Colonial Inauguration. For the past few years, officials have prioritized making the three-day program more pertinent to everyday life as a student at GW. Since 2007, officials have done away with the laser light show and engraved chocolates on pillows in favor of a more modest program. Last year, CI added mandatory sexual assault prevention training.

Changes for student health
Konwerski said Tracy Arwari, who has headed the CARE Network since 2013, would lead the new department within the Division of Student Affairs.

Mainstay Mark Levine, the former senior associate dean of students who led the University’s student health efforts, was let go as part of the office’s staffing changes.

Konwerski said the department would instead create a new position – the executive director of the Colonial Health Center.

During his tenure at GW, Levine worked closely with Student Health Services and Mental Health Services. MHS was plagued by high turnover and the resignations of two directors in the past five years. In September, Director Silvio Weisner resigned after officials discovered that he was not a licensed psychologist in the District.

Student Association President Erika Feinman said in an email they hoped the new health center director “is open to listening to students about their experiences with health services in order to make the services provided more affordable and of better use to students.”

They added that it was important to ensure DSA offices remain active after the changes take effect.

“The Student Association will continue to work with DSA and other administrators to ensure that important services for students are not decreased or disregarded throughout this process of merging offices,” they said.

This post is updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that CI programs changed in 2012. Those changes took place after 2007. We regret this error.

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