Larimore Steps Down as Dean of Students
Issue   |   Wed, 02/05/2014 - 03:14
Sophie Murguia '17 Managing News Editor
Several students gathered in front of Converse Hall on Tuesday said they were concerned that students had not been consulted in the search for a new administrator to take over Larimore’s duties.

Jim Larimore stepped down from his position as Dean of Students in an unexpected move announced Monday evening.

Although no new Dean of Students has been named, former Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey has assumed the position of Chief Student Affairs Officer, taking on many of Larimore’s previous responsibilities. Larimore will remain at Amherst as an advisor to President Biddy Martin until the end of the academic year. Don Faulstick, formerly the associate athletics director, has assumed the job of Interim Athletic Director.

Larimore, who held the Dean of Students position for less than a year, e-mailed the campus community on Monday to say that he had chosen to leave his post. He described the choice as “a very difficult personal decision.”

“I have come to realize that implementing changes in the organization, staffing and management of the Dean of Students Office — changes that are necessary and that I support — would also mean, for me, increasingly and indefinitely moving away from the more personal aspects of being a dean that I love the most,” Larimore said in his e-mail.

Both Martin and Provost Peter Uvin later said that Larimore’s decision was born out of a realization that the job was not a good fit for him. Uvin characterized Larimore’s departure as “Dean Larimore deciding to move on to a job that better fits his many talents.”

Larimore could not be reached for further comment regarding his decision.

An hour after Larimore’s e-mail, Martin sent out an e-mail of her own naming Coffey to the newly-created student affairs position. Martin said that Larimore had been on board with changes that needed to be made in student affairs and echoed Larimore’s characterization of his decision as “personal.”

Larimore “has set some changes in motion, but there are others that still await our full attention,” Martin said. “We cannot afford the time it would take to conduct a lengthy search, nor can we afford a brief interim solution.”

Martin presented Coffey’s appointment as a response to this “urgent need for change.” Coffey has been appointed to the student affairs job for a two-year term.

“I will oversee the immediate review of all aspects of student life at Amherst,” Coffey said in an e-mail to The Student. “My charge is to accelerate the pace of change in key areas where structural and policy reform is needed.”

In her e-mail, Martin said that Uvin will be assisting Coffey in her new position. She later clarified that Uvin’s assistance will be informal and that he will provide the kind of help a provost would normally provide to a student affairs officer. The responsibilities of the Provost job will not change.

“I don’t really know very concretely yet how I will assist Suzanne Coffey,” Uvin said. “It remains to be determined as her and the office’s needs warrant. Obviously, I will assist her through general brainstorming, also bringing in ideas from strategic planning as they emerge.”

As to Larimore’s role, Martin later clarified what his responsibilities will be as her advisor.

“Jim has identified a consultant that we will use to help with the implementation of changes in the Dean’s Office and in the broad area of student affairs,” she said. “In addition to the consultant’s recommendations, I will draw on Jim’s knowledge of student affairs in considering the kinds of changes that make sense. Jim is already working with Suzanne Coffey to ensure a smooth transition.”

Many student responded to the pair of announcements by expressing their surprise and confusion. At the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) meeting on Monday night, several senators said they disapproved of the personnel changes and were uncertain about what role Coffey will play as Chief Student Affairs Officer. The AAS narrowly passed a resolution condemning the way the changes were handled and requesting clarity as to the extent of Coffey’s new job.

“We believe that the student body deserves both an explanation and a role in the restructuring process,” the resolution concluded. “We request immediate action, including a timeline for a search that incorporates student input on this issue.”

Some senators and other students reiterated these concerns on Tuesday morning, where several students gathered in front of Converse Hall to protest what they perceived as a lack of transparency and student input in the personnel changes. The protesters held signs that said “Two Years Is Too Long,” “Ask Us” and “Student Input.”

“She’s supposed to be a liaison for the students,” said Andrew Edelman ’15, one of the students present, of Coffey’s new role. “She’s supposed to be focused on us as students, and yet we were given no voice in choosing her.”

Later on Tuesday, Martin sent an e-mail to senators, Resident Counselors and club leaders apologizing for the anxiety caused by the announcements and inviting any interested students to attend a meeting with her that night to learn more.

Both Martin and Uvin attended what turned out to be a two-hour meeting, held in Cole Assembly Room. The two administrators answered questions about the recent changes and solicited input about how to move forward with restructuring the Dean of Students Office. At the meeting, students voiced concerns about Suzanne Coffey as an administrator and about the lack of student input in her hiring. Martin also helped to clarify how specifically the College plans to change the handling of student affairs.

The concerns about Coffey’s appointment emerged largely as a result of her role in last year’s debate on sexual assault. In February 2013, Political Science Professor Thomas Dumm wrote a letter to The Student arguing that the College should examine a connection between sports culture and sexual assault. Coffey wrote a letter in response to Dumm that defended athletes and described Dumm’s letter as “deliberately hurtful.” She lauded the achievements of Amherst’s student athletes and said they were not any more responsible than any other group for the College’s problems.

Many students at the meeting worried that Coffey’s letter ignored the possibility of a connection between athletic culture and rape, and some said they would have trouble trusting Coffey because of the attitude revealed in this letter. Martin said she was surprised that students had so many concerns about a single letter, and she praised Coffey’s achievements as Interim Title IX Coordinator. However, Martin acknowledged that the student concerns seemed legitimate and promised to reread the letter. She added that the letter should be a part of discussions going forward and urged students to reach out to Coffey with any worries they have.

Martin praised Coffey as an exceptional administrator, echoing her email which described Coffey as “one of the most talented and effective administrators I have known over the course of my career.” She said that good administrators are difficult to find, and she chose Coffey for the role because she already believed that Coffey had the rare talent needed to do the job well.

Martin also explained the lack of student input in Coffey’s new role by saying that Larimore’s decision to step down came as a surprise, and Martin felt it was important to assign a new person to handle student affairs immediately. By giving Coffey a two-year term as opposed to a short interim position, Martin hopes to allow Coffey the time she needs to enact meaningful change.

Finally, Martin elaborated on some of the extensive changes that she hopes to make in the realm of student affairs. These changes include changing the leadership of the Counseling Center, providing better support for mental health and wellness and reexamining the relationship between the Counseling Center and the Dean’s Office. Martin also questioned whether Class Deans should be overseeing discipline at the same time that they oversee academic and personal support. Other changes she discussed included working to build up student-alumni relationships through the Career Center, improving services for international students and building up the residence life program. She said the College will also continue trying to step up its efforts to fight sexual assault.

Throughout the meeting, Martin repeated that Larimore’s resignation was surprising for her as well, and she does not yet have answers to all of students’ questions about the future. For instance, she does not yet know what will happen after Suzanne Coffey’s two-year term expires. Martin said that Coffey will not automatically become Dean of Students or keep her role as Chief Student Affairs Officer, but it is also possible that Coffey will be given a permanent position.

Martin concluded the meeting by thanking students for coming and emphasizing that she will make herself available to meet with anyone who wants to discuss concerns or offer input.