College Announces Interim Administrative Positions

Dean+of+Students+and+Assistant+Professor+of+History+of+Art+and+Architecture+Katy+Smith+Abbott+will+serve+as+interim+Dean+of+the+College+beginning+in+January.+%28Courtesy+College+communications%29

Dean of Students and Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture Katy Smith Abbott will serve as interim Dean of the College beginning in January. (Courtesy College communications)

By Joe Flaherty

On Oct. 17, President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz announced several administrative changes in an all-campus email. Included was the news that Dean of Students and Assistant Professor of the History of Art and Architecture Katy Smith Abbott will serve as interim Dean of the College beginning in January. Smith Abbott is replacing Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Shirley Collado, who is departing Middlebury to become Executive Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Executive Vice Provost at Rutgers University – Newark. 

Collado wrote in an email to The Middlebury Campus that Smith Abbott is the right person for the position. “I am thrilled that Katy will assume this interim role,” Collado wrote. “She has been an incredible colleague and leader as the Dean of Students, and I am confident that she will bring strong vision, experience and a student-centered approach to her work with our Student Life team.”

In his email, Liebowitz also detailed several other administrative shifts that will occur through the 2015-2016 school year. The various changes are due in large part to Collado’s multiple responsibilities at the College, which include serving as the College’s Title IX Coordinator and Chief Diversity Officer. These roles are now being divided among several administrators. Liebowitz explained that the creation of these positions as interim roles and the division of Collado’s responsibilities are because of the broader changes underway at the College during the presidential search. In his email, he wrote, “This will provide important continuity for the community while giving the next president of Middlebury the opportunity to consider and make long-term administrative leadership decisions.” 

Collado believes that the decision to separate these roles into different positions will ultimately leave the College in a strong position when a new College President takes the reins. “These recent appointments demonstrate the College’s serious investment in the critical areas of responsibility that I oversee. Given the leadership transitions at the institution, I think it is wise to appoint three outstanding individuals to oversee student life, diversity initiatives and Title IX responsibilities,” Collado wrote. “There are a variety of ways that this work can be structured, but what is most important is that Middlebury must remain deeply committed to these goals and areas. I have no doubt that dividing up the roles with three talented individuals is the best way to address our institutional needs and strategic goals at this time.”

Smith Abbott brings years of experience in student life to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College position. She, along with her husband, Professor of Mathematics Steve Abbott, served as co-heads of Ross Commons from 2002 to 2008. In 2011, Smith Abbott was appointed Dean of Students after four years as Associate Dean of the College. In his email, Liebowitz wrote that in Smith Abbott’s new role, “She will oversee residential life, student activities, athletics, public safety, new student orientation, judicial affairs, the Parton Center for Health and Wellness and the centers and programs related to innovation, entrepreneurship, career services, and internships.”

There is significant overlap between Smith Abbott’s current responsibilities as Dean of Students and her new responsibilities as Dean of the College. However, new areas that will fall under Smith Abbott’s purview starting in January include Athletics, the Department of Public Safety and the Parton Center for Health and Wellness. There are also new responsibilities for Smith Abbott in managing offices and programs such as the Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts, the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and MiddCORE.

As she prepares to step into the new role, Smith Abbott said, “I’m eager to support the initiatives already in play and to create real dialogue with students about the issues that matter most to them. I already work closely with all my colleagues in the office of the Dean of the College and I look forward to the collaborations across student life.” 

Working with Smith Abbott in January will be Dean of Wonnacott Commons Matt Longman ’89, who will serve as Special Assistant to the Dean of the College.

 “Matt Longman is taking part of the Dean of Students portfolio. He is taking on some, but not all, of the responsibilities of the Dean of Students role so he can preserve his commitment to the Dean of Wonnacott role,” Smith Abbott said. 

Longman will continue to serve as Dean of Wonnacott Commons. A Middlebury graduate, he has worked as a dean at the College for the past 17 years.

Looking past the 2015-2016 school year, Smith Abbott said there will likely be a conversation with the new president regarding the structure for student life administration. “I think a lot depends on the vision the new President has for student life,” she said.

Professor of Spanish Miguel Fernández ’85 will be the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) for the 2015-2016 school year. With Collado’s departure, starting in January the CDO will be its own position. Fernández, who has previously served as chair of the Department of Spanish & Portuguese and director of Latin American Studies, will take on existing initiatives in diversity. Notably, Fernández will support the Creating Connections Consortium (C3). Collado was instrumental in securing this $4.7 million grant for the College, along with Connecticut College and Williams College, from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to increase diversity among faculty. Fernández will be stepping into the CDO role as C3 continues to grow and add other university partners to the program.  He praised the program in an email to the Campus. “This is not simply a post-doc fellowship that brings underrepresented graduate students onto the faculty for a couple of years. It is a much more complex program with ambitious goals,” Fernández said. “I am attracted by the creative approach of C3 and how it goes to the root of a problem and seeks workable solutions that benefit not just our institution, but the whole academy.”

Additionally, as CDO, it is likely that Fernández will also be involved in the ongoing conversations around a proposed Intercultural Center. “I will pay close attention to the proposal this fall and get myself up to speed on the process,” Fernández wrote in an email to Campus. “My expectation is that the proposal will pass and that I will have an active role in the implementation of the Intercultural Center proposal.”

Finally, Liebowitz detailed an administrative change that ties into the new governance structure of the Board of Trustees. Vice President for Language Schools and Schools Abroad Michael Geisler will now also serve as the College’s Chief Risk Officer (CRO).

 “The addition of CRO to Michael’s title and responsibilities is a reflection of the increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment in which Middlebury and all of higher education now operate,” Liebowitz wrote. “This complexity requires a designated senior-level administrator to manage risk and to articulate and implement best practices and appropriate policies.”

As Vice President for Language Schools and Schools Abroad, Geisler assessed risks when looking for new sites for programs abroad.  “We spend a long time measuring the relative safety and how it is different from Middlebury and comparable cities in the United States,” he said.

Geisler will be the primary liaison to the risk management committee, one of the six functional standing committees that now exist within the Board of Trustees in its new governance structure. He will also oversee the work of the new Title IX Coordinator and Compliance Officer. Collado previously held the Title IX Officer position, and the individual who will fill this new role of Coordinator and Compliance Officer is unnamed as of yet. “Title IX and the Clery Act will be some of our responsibilities,” Geisler said, “as well as emerging threats like Ebola and new programs and what they mean in terms of the challenges on the financial side, on the safety side and on the side of managing staff and faculty resources.” Investment policy is also a part of the CRO’s responsibilities in risk management.

Geisler said the transition to the new governance structure in relation to his new role has been smooth. “There was thorough preparation done by the Trustees themselves and by the administration,” Geisler said. “By the time we had those meetings, everybody knew what their roles were and we were able to engage in much more focused and substantive discussions than under the former governance structure.” 

Collado is still heavily invested in diversity and inclusion initiatives in her remaining time at Middlebury.  “These include the approval of an intercultural center at Carr Hall, key faculty diversity initiatives, greater support for our first generation college students and community college transfer students, continued sexual violence education and prevention, further strengthening our MiddView new student orientation program and the successful launch of our new Posse STEM Program,” Collado wrote. “These are just some of the initiatives that I hope Katy, Miguel and the new Title IX Coordinator will continue to push forward through the 2015-2016 academic year.”