After a year of administrative turnovers, the vice president for student life search has reached its final stages. Five candidates selected by the search committee will visit campus between Jan. 14 and Jan. 23 for interviews and campus-wide open forums.
The schedule can be found on the search website, www.ua.edu/vpsl, along with each candidate’s profile and feedback form. These forms will be posted the day before the candidate’s presentation and remain available until the end of the following business day. LeNá McDonald, a member of the search committee, will accept feedback at any point throughout the search process via email at LeNa.McDonald@ua.edu.
David Grady held the position for four years and resigned on July 26, 2019. Kathleen Cramer currently serves as the interim vice president for student life.
Grady’s duties included managing a $90 million budget and supervising a staff of about 1,300 part-time employees and 300 full-time employees.
The reason for Grady’s resignation is unknown, but he is still employed by the University as special assistant to the executive vice president and provost. Executive vice president and provost Kevin Whitaker plans to retire in 2020. President Stuart R. Bell stated a goal of filling Whitaker’s position by late April in a UA News release.
Grady was responsible for hiring former dean of students Jamie Riley, whose Sept. 5 resignation was met with concern from the campus community. In the aftermath of Riley’s resignation, the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) presented a list of demands to President Bell on Sept. 13. About two weeks later, one of these demands was met: The details of the search for the new vice president for student life were made public. The Crimson White was made aware of the search process on Sept. 17, and a website for the search was created the following week.
Farrah Sanders, a senior majoring in news media, delivered a letter to President Bell on the steps of Rose Administration two weeks after Riley’s resignation and has led other efforts to ensure free speech, diversity and inclusion on campus over the last semester. She has been closely involved with the efforts of organizations like BFSA to make the details of the search process public.
Sanders has also met weekly with Cramer to maintain an open dialogue between students and senior administrative leaders.
“[These conversations] have pretty much been about looking forward and trying to get as much done with the current VP for student life that we have before we have to essentially reset,” Sanders said. “Because we’ve talked about trying to make sure the person is capable, is thoughtful, is someone that really wants to do exactly what we’re asking for. But we do understand there’s a learning curve.”
The dean of students position has remained unfilled since Riley’s resignation, but associate vice president for student life Steven Hood confirmed that a search will be conducted once a vice president for student life is hired.
Student Government Association (SGA) president Harrison Adams and Courtney S. King, a junior majoring in elementary education and vice president of the Black Student Union, serve as the two student representatives on the 11-member search committee. Linda Bonnin, vice president of strategic communications and member of the committee, will leave her position Jan. 31 for a job at Abilene Christian University.
While unable to disclose specific details about the candidates, Adams said that throughout the process he looked for candidates who hold current positions that would prepare them for the scale of the UA student body, as well as someone who expressed familiarity with the institution.
Adams said he believed the decision to include King as the second student representative on the committee was a conscious effort to include a student perspective that differed from his own.
“I don’t think our points of view differed throughout the process in the conversations that took place in the room, but at the same time, I think they wanted to make sure they, in some way, shape or form, covered more ground,” he said.
Sanders expressed her approval of the decision to include King on the committee.
“The majority of the search committee that I have heard of … are positions that you would traditionally turn to,” Sanders said. “Honestly, I’ve met a lot of student leaders that are really committed to servant leadership and doing their jobs, but we’re at a standstill where we continue to look to these same organizations but continue to see these same situations. I’m not implying that someone’s not doing their job, but maybe there needs to be another perspective in there.”
King pointed to longevity of career as a strong indicator of a candidate’s ability to fill this position.
“I’m interested in the realm of higher ed through my major,” King said. “Over this past summer I had an internship over the summer at Southern Methodist University in student affairs, so I’m not foreign to student affairs. I brought that experience to the table in the search process.”