April Thompson will leave College in July
By Amelia Acosta, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, June 22, 2012
Although the College has not made a formal announcement, Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life April Thompson will leave Dartmouth on July 6 after working 11 years in multiple departments to accept a position at Binghamton University, Thompson said. She will begin her duties as the university’s dean of students on Aug. 6. Pam Misener, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s advisor to LGBTQA students and Thompson’s wife, will also leave the College in January 2013.
Thompson served as the director of the Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Office before taking the newly-created position of associate dean in April 2010. As dean, she oversaw UJAO, the Collis Center for Student Involvement, student activities, the Greek system, residential operations, Dartmouth Dining Services and the Office of Outdoor Programs, among other divisions.
Thompson said that while she is “incredibly sad” to be leaving the College and the Upper Valley, her new position at Binghamton combines her “favorite parts” of working with students.
“If I were writing my own job description, this would be it,” Thompson said. “Binghamton also recently created a new graduate school in education, so the opportunity to work with graduate students and new professionals in the field is really exciting.”
Thompson said she missed the close interactions she experienced with students while working in the UJAO and was excited to return to the “traditional dean of students role” at Binghamton. At the same time, she said it is “quite unusual” to have staff stay in positions at any institution as long as she has stayed at the College.
“I stayed at Dartmouth for so many years because I kept getting the opportunity to work with students in new and different ways,” Thompson said.
In March, UJAO charged 27 members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity with hazing charges stemming from allegations made by former SAE member Andrew Lohse ’12. Thompson dealt directly with the adjudication process, during which she was “in over her head in a lot of the proceedings,” former SAE president Brendan Mahoney ’12 said.
“The paperwork was inconsistent and riddled with errors, and she did not seem to fully comprehend her decision to charge 27 individuals with expulsion-level violations,” Mahoney said. “It seemed that she did not fully understand the gravity or consequences of her actions.”
The proceedings, while difficult, were not out of the ordinary in terms of issues with which the Dean of the College’s office regularly deals, according to Thompson.
“What made this an exceptional problem was that it was in the media,” she said. “When we do this work with students, we’re in the spotlight, and whether we’re in the national media or not, we should act like we are. There should be no decision I make that couldn’t go on the front page of The New York Times. As long as you’re making ethical decisions, there’s nothing to hide.”
The charges, which ultimately were dropped, received widespread criticism on campus.
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said that while Thompson’s “talents and skills will be sorely missed,” the “pool of talent” in the Dean of the College’s office is deep enough to cover all necessary bases before Thompson’s replacement is found.
“Every loss is also an opportunity,” Johnson said. “I would like to work through this transition and give other people within the division a chance to show their talents, as well as take a look at the organizational structure to modify or tweak it both on behalf of the division and on behalf of the students.”
Thompson has made a “lasting impact” on the College, according to Johnson, who cited her effort for alternative social spaces and the new dining plan options among her accomplishments. She agreed with Thompson that there is “nothing unusual” about people moving in and out of their jobs and said she will work to ensure that the transition does not negatively impact students in the short or long term.
“This is a place where loyalty runs deep, but departures are quite frankly expected,” Johnson said. “We will continue to work to get feedback from students and be transparent about what we’re doing to replace positions and move forward.”
Johnson said that Thompson’s departure will not “slow the train” on a number of campus projects currently in the middle of implementation, such as new Committee on Standards sexual assault recommendations and hazing initiatives that are a collaboration between students and the Dean of the College’s Office.
“We’re in the process of building a new physical plant for Alpha Phi [sorority] that needs to be open for Fall term and finishing the new social space and late night food options in the basement of the Class of 1953 Commons,” Thompson said. “Whoever comes in as my replacement will have these big projects that need to be ready for Fall term and that can’t languish in a transition.”
Misener said that the College will need to get back into a “more proactive routine” of recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce when it comes to replacing both herself and Thompson, citing the recent budget crisis as part of the problem in achieving this goal.
“We haven’t been able to work as quickly as we might have prior to the budget crisis with doing that work and being assertive to ensure we have a diverse and vibrant workforce with enough depth and elasticity to manage what you can anticipate to be the usual comings and goings of any college workforce,” she said. “Dartmouth is a more rural location, and it’s not necessarily a place some people would think about initially working or staying, and we have to work harder and differently to make Dartmouth on people’s radar.”
The College does not anticipate difficulty in finding a replacement for Thompson, according to Johnson.
“I would like to have someone on board by the end of next summer,” Johnson said. “I anticipate doing a national search, which usually takes about six to eight months from start to finish. Because the person we want will likely be at another institution, they will need time to transition into the new role.”
Misener said that working with students and engaging in dialogue about different experiences on and off campus has been her favorite part of her time at Dartmouth. Misener, however, said she has faced challenges due to a lack of resources in OPAL. She compared diversity on campus to a garden that has grown significantly but does not have the means to be tended and maintained.
“For most of my years here, while resources have been a challenge, there were people who were willing and able to hear that and form a partnership about how we could do more and better,” she said. “In recent years, I feel a little less like that, and that’s part of what’s made me feel like it might be time to look for new opportunities, whether it’s here or elsewhere.”
There has been a “shift in the senior leadership paradigm” that seemed incongruent with her partnerships with past senior leaders as well as her own leadership vision, Misener said.
Dartmouth’s many transitions have provided Thompson with an “incredible learning experience,” Thompson said. The College’s budget crisis, leadership changes both in the Office of the President and Dean of the College’s Office and losing friends and colleagues because of layoffs have all prepared her for the “current global climate,” she said. Binghamton recently decided to shut down the university’s Greek system in response to hazing allegations, and Thompson said her experience with Dartmouth’s own Greek system will better enable her to handle the challenges of the new campus.
“I’ve learned so much about how to be a caring and compassionate supervisor and leader,” Thompson said. “Most of all, I’ve learned how multifaceted and complex students are and that they can’t be boxed or labeled. We shouldn’t try to put a label on our students.”