Suzanne Coffey Announces Retirement
Issue   |   Tue, 10/24/2017 - 20:12

After 35 years in higher education, 12 of which she spent at Amherst College, Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey will retire at the end of this year. President Biddy Martin announced her retirement and the start of the search for a replacement in an email to the college community on Oct. 17. The college aims to secure a new chief student affairs officer by July 1, 2018, according to Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein.

According to Martin, Coffey first came to Amherst as the athletic director, a position she held from 2006 to 2014. In 2012, she became the campus Title IX leader, and transitioned into the role of chief student affairs officer — the first person in this position — in 2014.

Martin promoted Coffey to her current position, intending for it to be a two-year commitment. Working to improve student life, Coffey went “far above and beyond what I hoped she might achieve in the two-year stint I asked her to accept,” Martin wrote.

Coffey focused on residential life and helped develop the new Greenway dormitories, designed to encourage social interaction and enhance students’ shared sense of responsibility for living spaces, well-being and campus experience, Martin said. Coffey’s work with the residential halls is one of the many ways she sought to improve the sense of community on campus.

The search for a replacement is co-chaired by Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones. The college has hired recruiting firm Isaacson, Miller to assist in the process, and the firm will work alongside the search committee once the college has finalized its members, which will include three senior staff members, two professors, three staff members and three students.

The search committee and Isaacson, Miller will meet independently with different constituencies, according to Epstein. The two groups will meet to discuss what the community is looking for in a replacement, and the search firm will assemble potential candidates.

Epstein said the search will be consolidated to three candidates sometime around February or March. The candidates will each visit the campus before undergoing reviews for a final decision.

Coffey’s term as the first chief student affairs officer solidified the importance of the position, and Epstein said in an interview that she hopes the replacement will help “bridge divides on campus.”

In 2013, Coffey defended the college’s athletes in response Professor of Political Science Thomas Dumm’s opinion article in The Student suggesting the college investigate “the connection between male athletics and rape culture.” Her response praising student-athletes’ other accomplishments and denying Dumm’s claims made her a controversial figure on campus.

Many students perceived her 2014 appointment as lacking transparency, as the news was made public on the same day former Dean of Students Jim Larimore announced his unexpected departure. Some students staged a protest in response to the announcement, and the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) passed a resolution expressing “grave concern” over the decision and requesting consultation with the student body.

Students looking to get involved in the search for the new chief student affairs officer can attend a meeting with Isaacson, Miller on Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. The meeting is limited to 50 students, but students are welcome to write to the committee with their opinions.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the search committee for Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey's replacement will include seven faculty members, one professor and three students. The committee will be comprised of three senior staff members, two professors, three staff members and three students. This story was updated at 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 25 to reflect this change.