Purna Post-Leon: What does your job as Vice President for Student Life entail, exactly?
Mike Brody: The college has a structure that includes a president who is sort of the chief executive officer and then a team of vice presidents and deans that report directly to the President, and each oversee an area of the college. So I report directly to the president and oversee Student Life, which is about 80 people or so in all of these different offices, the names of which you probably are aware, and so my job is to supervise directly or indirectly all of those staff and to make sure that there’s a clear conduit of communication between the people who work in Student Life and the President and Vice President’s team and vice versa. And then to make sure that the interests of the students are always in the center of the conversations that we have about how the college is run. That’s basically my role. There’s a whole bunch of other parts to it. But fundamentally, that’s the rule.
PPL: Since you’re going to be leaving after a long time, what’s your favorite memory of working at Reed?
MB: That’s a nice question. You know, all of my favorite memories, sort of cherished memories have something to do with the community that is Reed. And so some of the moments of just exuberant celebration at Renn Fayre, watching the new residence hall go up, it was amazing. There were lots of really high points. Weirdly, some of the moments, the memories where I felt most proud to be part of this community were actually around some of the worst things that happened here, some of the real tragedies. When a member of our community passed away, I saw people come together and support each other in ways that made it really clear that this place is really special.
PPL: What’s your proudest achievement in your job?
MB: You know, there’s, there are lots but I think first of all, I should say, as a vice president, you don’t do anything on your own. Everything that happens, happens because you have really good people working together to make things happen. I’m really, really gratified to see student success having moved from what felt like the periphery 20 years ago to the center. And so, the last board meeting we have with the Board of Trustees, pretty much every conversation was either directly or indirectly about student success.
PPL: On the flip side, like what’s your biggest regret or mistake that you feel like you’ve made in your job?
MB: I feel like the challenges of higher education and the challenges in general and Reed in particular, are really, really complicated, and important, and I have been very very human. I’ve been very fallible in many of the challenges where I can’t help but think there were other ways to move forward, where we were functioning more like a community. It’s been really, really hard to see people feeling like this place is inhospitable for any variety of reasons. And I take that very seriously and, at times, often I feel like I take it personally. I wish I could have done more.
PPL: Your resignation seems pretty sudden. Is there a reason for it to happen so suddenly with a lot of [administrative] turnover, [including the] New President?
MB: I can totally understand how it would seem sudden from outside. I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now how to balance what I think is best for the college and what I think is best for me long term. And I’ve actually stayed in this job a lot longer than most people do at other places, and so it doesn’t, it doesn’t feel particularly sudden. I did want to make sure that I gave a lot of notice, so that we could be really thoughtful about the transition and not wait till like the end of the year. And, yeah, I just think that Audrey is going to be an amazing president at Reed and brings this wonderful fresh perspective and energy. And I want to make sure that I didn’t sort of inadvertently hold that back because I’ve been here for so long. And I think there’s a fair amount of baggage over time that a person in this world picks up and that I’ve picked up. So it just seemed like, it seemed like the right time. But it’s a hard decision.
PPL: Will you be involved in selecting the next Vice President of Student Life?
MB: I don’t think so. I don’t think I should be. I mean, I think it’s important for me to be as clear as I can with with Audrey and the other VPs about what I think the job entails. And then I really think I need to step back so that the leadership of the College and the students and staff and faculty who are going to be here are the ones that that figure that out. I think my role there is to just try to make sure I’m available as a resource during the transition, but I don’t think I’d play a direct role.
PPL: What would be a piece of advice that you would give to your successor?
MB: Yeah, that’s a great question too. I would, I would remind them that, as important as it is to build good systems and to be thinking about the long term strength of the college, day to day the most important thing is the relationships with staff, with colleagues, and primarily with students.
PPL: What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions people hold about you or your job are?
MB: Well, I don’t want to guess. I don’t want to guess about people’s conceptions or misconceptions. I think there are probably many, but they’re definitely better people to ask. But, well, I think oftentimes people say you just don’t care about us. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know that sometimes the gap between intention and impact is significant. And so I fully accept the criticism that you know, there’s more we could be doing, or at least there are alternative and perhaps better ways that we can meet students needs. But it’s hard for me to imagine carrying more than I do about the students here, and about this stuff. As far as the job, I don’t think anybody really knows what the job is, it’s kind of a funky job. So I think the misconception probably about the job is that, if I really wanted to, I could just kind of exert my authority or wave a wand or something and make some things happen. I unquestionably have power and privilege in this role as all of us do in the president’s cabinet, the vice presidents and things, but the governance structure of the college means that you really do have to work with folks. And I think sometimes people think like, if you really cared then you would fill in the blank. That’s rarely the case. It’s always a compromise and it’s always a process. There’s just not a lot of unilateral authority to do stuff. And we have this governance process that includes, to a great extent, members of the student body and the faculty. And so we work in partnership. So I think, I think some sometimes my position is seen as, like, if the thing that you really think needed to happen didn’t happen, it must be because the… [trails off]
PPL: Are you the Vice President who works [most] closely with the HCC?
MB: [The recent problems felt] super different. That’s where I started my career at Reed. The fact that that’s such a critically important part of the Division of Student Life in the college, to provide those resources for students, and that we found ourselves in this situation where
we have fallen short of being able to do what we need to do for students. That’s, that’s very difficult.
PPL: Do you know why there’s been such high turnover in the HCC in the last couple of years? I remember [in 2017 that there were also some] concerns with the HCC. Is it just bad luck?
MB: Right. I mean, I think it’s a few things. I think one of the things is that a lot of the direct student care on the counseling side in the past has come from residents and other trainees… And those folks are at the end of or at some point in their training. And so it’s by design. People rotate in and out. [With respect to] the permanent staff, the clinical staff… the flip side of the story about so many people leaving is that so many people stay for so long. And then if people have been here for seven or eight or 10 years, then in a clinic of that size if a couple of people leave, it’s a big transition. But I think more importantly than that… colleges and universities across the country are seeing this huge increase in demand, for counseling services in particular. And at the same time, like in Portland, the employment situation for clinicians is such that they can usually make more money out in private practice or working for a hospital system, or even a group practice than working at a college or university. So those two things come together. And I think the model that Reed has had for a long time is pretty tough to sustain..
PPL: Do you think that the model will have to change in the future in order to maintain the facilities that we have?
MB: So my hope is that the model will evolve to one that’s more about community based health and well-being… there are many issues that students face that require some intervention and some support that isn’t clinical. And I don’t think we’ve been as intentional as we need to be about having those resources in place. And then when students do need clinical care, trying to make sure that we’re really clear ahead of time about what scope of practice we have for those folks. And then if there are things that exceed that scope, where we don’t have a way to provide the care that a student wants or needs, that we have a really good way of referring into the community that includes financial support, so that people who have insurance that may not be as good or other resource issues get some help from us.
PPL: Are there some specific things that you hope to tie up in your last couple months here?
MB: We’ve had a lot of transition in the Student Life staff and so making sure that those positions are filled with really good people, and that the Health and Counseling Center, in particular the counseling staff, are in place and working with students. That’s really important. But mainly to make sure that all those structures [are] in place… because we definitely have turnover. So I just want to make sure that those structures [are] in place so that the work keeps happening.
PPL: What type of legacy do you hope to [leave] at Reed?
MB: Legacy is a huge word, right? I mean, I think what I really hope to do because I have this wonderful opportunity to stay through the year, to try to be really thoughtful about this transition. And so my hope is through that, to really maintain and focus on student success, and in particular to make sure that that is an effort that is across the Division of Student Life, but also a collaborative effort with faculty and students and staff outside, as well as within the division. So if students five years from now, one year from now are healthier and happier and feel more valued and included here, then that would be amazing. I could never stake claim to that legacy, but I’d be really happy to see that.
PPL: What’s next for you?
MB: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I could imagine some combination of clinical work and work in higher education. It’s hard to imagine. I’ve literally like gotten up every day and come to work here for as long as a lot of these students have been alive. Sort of weird, right? So I just don’t know yet. I don’t yet have another job.
PPL: And then I guess any last thoughts you want to share with Reed? For students, faculty staff?
MB: No, I mean, I probably do but I’m not sure I’m ready to try to encapsulate that. I will say, I don’t know how cogent any of this is going to seem when you listen to it but, super emotional time for me. I made this announcement and then have just been working, like I haven’t had a chance to kind of let it sink in. So maybe after I have a chance to let it sink in.
This is a great interview. Thoughtful, relevant questions. Congrats.