One of GW’s most accessible administrators is taking on a larger role this year.
Cissy Petty, who became the University’s inaugural dean of student affairs last year, will take on new responsibilities this year. In addition to her previous roles overseeing student affairs, she will take over the CARE network, New Student Orientation, the Lerner Health and Wellness Center, Marvin Center student activities and Mount Vernon Campus operations. While all of these new tasks relate to the student experience, Petty should know not to bite off more than she can chew.
Petty’s first year was marked by her impressive accessibility to students and willingness to hear students out. She took an active approach to her job by living in residence halls and being present at student events, like Student Association meetings. Although expanding her job might seem like students have a larger say in higher-level decisions, the additional tasks raise concerns about whether Petty is stretched too thin. Petty cannot continue to be accessible and available to students while juggling a slew of tasks at once.
When Petty arrived at GW, the Colonial Health Center was in crisis. It had been led by three individuals in the course of one year and went without a permanent head since Glenn Egelman abruptly resigned in September 2017. Petty’s first major responsibility was taking temporary control of the CHC while officials searched for a permanent leader. But the University has yet to find a permanent leader more than two years since Petty stepped in – and GW keeps putting more on her plate.
Petty’s expanded responsibilities mean projects might slip through the cracks. The University should not hand Petty more jobs when it could cause her other jobs to be potentially neglected. Although the University has implemented some changes to the CHC since Petty took the helm, it has not addressed some of the serious issues like long wait times. Handing Petty more responsibility while she is still in charge of a fragile department could lead the CHC and some existing tasks to fall by the wayside.
Officials need to stop expanding Petty’s responsibilities. The CHC is too important to student health and safety to be led by someone who does not have the time to give it adequate attention. Petty is also taking on massive projects, like the newly implemented New Student Orientation and Vern operations. While Petty’s promotion could be seen as a step forward for students seeking representation among top leadership, Petty should clarify her priorities so students know she is still vouching for them.
Petty’s new jobs are large-scale tasks, which were previously led by multiple individuals. The transition from Colonial Inauguration to New Student Orientation is still in the early stages, and it was initially led by former Dean of Admissions Costas Solomou and former Senior Vice Provost of Enrollment and the Student Experience Laurie Koehler. Putting Petty in charge means consolidating the leadership of one of GW’s biggest and newest projects and placing more weight on Petty’s shoulders than one person can handle.
Leading operations on the Vern should be done by someone who can solve campus issues – like the lack of food options and nearby health services and stagnant social life – with a full-time commitment. It is impossible to properly address major issues on campus while juggling too many responsibilities. Although Petty runs operations on the Vern, she is also leading the charge to create a more cohesive campus community – one of University President Thomas LeBlanc’s biggest goals. Petty is not just overseeing too many projects – she is responsible for large projects that should have multiple leaders.
Officials should address concerns that Petty might be overworked and unable to be accessible to students. Students could lose their voice in the administration if Petty does not have the time to continue engaging with students while attempting to handle multiple jobs. But more concerning is that Petty might not be able to handle the amount of work necessary to complete big projects.
It is essential that the University addresses concerns that Petty’s time might be spread too thin. While students should feel comfortable with Petty handling important student issues, it is also concerning that Petty is handling jobs that should be handled by multiple administrators.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.