While finding the right person to be UC Berkeley’s next dean of students is undoubtedly difficult, the search committee doesn’t have to look too hard to outline both the shoes the new dean needs to fill and this person’s role in tackling some of the challenges the campus faces.
The recently resigned dean, Jonathan Poullard, was an administrator who, in the words of one campus official, elevated “the office of student life to where it is now.” His professionalism and work with student organizations were praised by many others, and his efforts to build dialogue and facilitate civil discourse will no doubt be a significant part of his legacy. Still, concerns remain about his time as dean.
Poullard stood behind former chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s controversial description of the 2011 Occupy Cal protests. When UCPD officers beat demonstrators standing by Sproul Hall, Birgeneau defended the police action. His grounds were that the students linking arms qualified as “not nonviolent civil disobedience.” Poullard, the dean of students and thereby accountable for ensuring student safety and well-being, agreed with Birgeneau’s wrong-headed characterization.
For whomever the search committee taps as the next dean of students, one of his or her primary obligations should be to publicly take on the issue of student protests. The dean should lean into the tension and work with students to address the basis of student civil disobedience and why calls for peaceful demonstration cannot be answered with acts of police violence.
The new dean will also need to bridge the gap between UC President Janet Napolitano and students concerned about her previous roles as the Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Arizona. While the dean of students’ job isn not to coordinate public relations for the UC president, it should be a priority to ensure that the UC Office of the President hears the concerns of the Berkeley student community and is able to work on addressing them.
The same also goes for making sure Berkeley’s new chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, is able to effectively communicate his vision for the campus to the student body. Dirks’ proposals of fireside chats with students and increasing administrative transparency are important, and the next dean of students must take on a key role in working with the ASUC to secure the necessary reforms.
The search committee, as Graduate Assembly President Max Gee put it, wants to give students “a voice along every step of the way.” The candidate the committee ultimately decide upon should as well.