President

Changes in Student Affairs Leadership

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

Earlier you received a message from Jim Larimore about his decision to step away from his position as Dean of Students and to assume a role as adviser to the president for the remainder of the semester. We are fortunate that we will continue to benefit from his knowledge of student affairs over the next several months.

It has become obvious over the past two years that we have unique opportunities for positive change, but also serious challenges that need to be addressed in student life.  Last year we had two outside consultants review our student services, focused primarily, but not exclusively, on our Counseling Center and its relationship to the dean’s office.  At the same time, we received the reports of Gina Maisto Smith about problems with the way sexual assault had been handled on campus.  The findings and recommendations of the consultants were consistent with Ms. Smith’s findings.  All pointed to the significant need for reorganization and greater effectiveness in our student services and student affairs functions. Jim’s assessments are in line with those we heard last year. He has set some changes in motion, but there are others that still await our full attention.  We cannot afford the time it would take to conduct a lengthy search, nor can we afford a brief interim solution. 

Because of the urgent need for change, I have asked Suzanne Coffey to leave her position as Athletic Director and step in to the role of Chief Student Affairs Officer for two years, during which time she will lead the implementation of organizational, personnel, and management changes that have been recommended by reviews of student affairs. In Suzanne, we have one of the most talented and effective administrators I have known over the course of my career, someone who has experience with many aspects of student life, and a person with unimpeachable integrity.  In addition to her impact on the athletics department, which has been extraordinary, Suzanne stepped in eighteen months ago to make the College compliant with Title IX, quickly putting in place the policies, procedures, and practices that have made us a model for other colleges.

Suzanne's leadership will allow us to make progress toward our ultimate goal of being a model of how students’ co-curricular learning and their social lives can be a more integral and enjoyable part of their educational experience at Amherst. Suzanne will be assisted in her work by a number of colleagues, in particular, our provost, Peter Uvin, who has agreed to help Suzanne as she tackles the work ahead. Addressing the challenges we face will also allow us to focus again on what is most important at Amherst—education and research.

Jim's decision is a personal one and we will respect it by focusing on the future.  Suzanne will make herself available for input on a broad range of matters and will be guided by the recommendations of our consultants, the work of our strategic planning committees, and by you and me. I close by asking all of you to do everything you can to support Suzanne and our student affairs staff as we tackle some of our problems and take fuller advantage of wonderful opportunities to enhance student life at Amherst.

Biddy