GW must ensure student experience improves with consolidation and new dean

The student affairs and enrollment departments will be sharing one metaphorical roof starting this summer. But whether this will actually improve the student experience will depend on what the University does with this consolidation and who they choose as the new dean of the student experience.

Last week, the University announced that they would be combining the student affairs and enrollment departments into one office in July to become the Office of Enrollment and the Student Experience. The new office will manage students’ entire experiences from the day they are accepted until they walk across the stage for graduation, which officials said should cut down on administrative bloat without eliminating any positions.

Cartoon by Grace Lee

Cartoon by Grace Lee

The University was right to decide to make this move because re-evaluation of these departments had to happen. These offices already often have overlap, and as students often gripe, this has sometimes resulted in employees not knowing what their colleagues do. Consequently, this has also left students confused about where to go with their questions or concerns. The Hatchet’s editorial board could not come to a consensus on whether consolidating these two departments will actually improve the student experience or whether it’s the best way to go about it. But regardless of whether or not these two offices had decided to consolidate, the University had to do something about this recurring problem, and now it’s up to GW to prove consolidation is a step in the right direction. And as the University establishes this new office and searches for a new dean of the student experience, they must get input from a diverse group of students.

The student experience, retention and enrollment are all inextricably linked to each other. Having all these departments under one over-arching department could foster much-needed communication, and having one individual like Laurie Koehler – the current vice provost for enrollment management and retention – overseeing everything can ensure each division’s goals and activities are aligned with one another. Most students can recite an experience with GW where they couldn’t find the right person to address the problem. This shift in office organization should help students feel like their relationship with the University is not as transactional, and fix the disconnect that can happen between offices. In order to do that, officials should be open about the process of combining offices as it occurs so students can stay in the loop.

As the offices consolidate, the University will begin the search for a new dean of the student experience. The position needs to be filled in order to replace Peter Konwerski, who stepped down as the dean of student affairs last month after spending 25 years working in student life at GW. Konwerski was one of the most known faces on campus and social media, constantly responding to student inquiries via Twitter. The University announced last week that the process of selecting a new dean involves a committee of 15 to 20 students who will have a voice in making a decision about the pivotal administrative role. Selecting a diverse group of students to take part in the search process will lead to GW selecting a strong and helpful dean of the student experience. But that group needs to be carefully chosen.

The University must make a concerted effort to pick students who are representative of the student body for this selection committee. While the committee should contain a handful of student leaders involved in the Student Association and major student organizations like College Democrats or Greek life, it’s important that the committee does not only include leaders of prominent organizations. The committee should try to include many different types of students – from veterans and international students to athletes and even the students who opt to live on the Mount Vernon Campus. The most important aspect is that the student committee contains students who have had a variety of experiences with GW’s bureaucracy in order to properly evaluate the qualifications of the new dean. The office will also be looking for replacements for four other leadership positions in students affairs too, and a group of diverse students should play a role in those selections as well.

When GW reaches out to students who have an interest in being on the committee, an effort needs to be made to attract students whose voices are rarely heard. Administrators shouldn’t simply send out an email application to the entire student body, because that will attract the same highly involved student leaders as always. While it is more difficult to individually reach out to students, a truly diverse group on the search committee will allow as many voices to be heard in what they want to see in the new dean. This can be done by also individually reaching out to students who have made complaints to the University to put on the committee, whether it was about housing or the financial aid office.

This student committee has an important task. They should look for an individual with strong experience in academic affairs and student life. The new dean shouldn’t be new to face-to-face interaction with students on a daily basis. Although it may not be bad for the new dean to have a background in finance or fundraising, that experience is already available to GW through University President Thomas LeBlanc. And while students should not expect the new dean to have the same exact social media presence as Konwerski, students should make sure to support someone who will be accessible to students through social media platforms we often use.

While it is hard to tell whether or not the combination of these two offices will lead to a favorable outcome for students, this consolidation of the Division of Student Affairs and the Enrollment, Management and Retention Division should be watched carefully by students. For the student committee whose voices will be included in the hiring of the most student-involved administrative position, take the responsibility seriously. The new dean will need to take on the best and worst at GW, and will help shape how students view administrators and the University in the future.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.

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