A Return to Portland and Higher Education

Q&A with the new Interim Dean of Students

Interim Dean of Students Cindy Anderson was hired over break to fill the position left behind by former Dean of Students Bruce Smith. The Quest sat down with Anderson to discuss her journey to Reed as well as her plans for the rest of the semester and beyond.

What is your personal background? 

Courtesy of Cindy Anderson

Courtesy of Cindy Anderson

I was born in Seattle and raised right here in Portland. I attended Oregon State for undergrad and Colorado State for graduate school. I was in College Student Personnel Administration, a program for people who want to work with college students outside of the curriculum. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach, but I was sure I wanted to engage with college students. There are so many decisions to be made at this time in your life. It is such a rich time. Some say working with college students keeps you young! You keep learning with each class. I’ve probably learned more from college students than I’ve imparted to them. 

In my final semester, I attended a professional conference (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) that hosted a Career Placement Exchange Program, in which you can interview with multiple schools at once. I flew out to the conference in my just-bought-for-interviews-JCPenney suit and filled up every interview slot I could. I met a group from Northern Arizona University, who impressed me with how they described the school and the students, but I told them I didn’t care to live in the desert. They broke it to me that Flagstaff is actually in the mountains! The climate’s not too far off from Bend, and they get real snow. 

So in Flagstaff I went back and forth between Residential Life and Student Life jobs. I was out there for thirty-six years. I had planned to leave Northern Arizona to pursue my doctorate, but the current dean of students at the time came to me with an opportunity for me to work half-time as an assistant dean while I worked on my doctorate as a full-time graduate student. I did this for one year, and then went to work fulltime as assistant dean while I worked on my doctorate part time for the next two and a half years. I got my doctorate in three and a half years, while working. I also didn’t get any sleep.

What was your journey to becoming Dean of Students at Reed?

How did I get to Reed? Well, I had retired after working at NAU for thirty-six years and moved back to Portland. I met with a friend in the area who was also a mutual friend of Mike Brody’s and who asked if I’d be interested in temporary or interim appointments or work on a part-time basis. I had retired because I could, but not necessarily because I was done with my career or work. He passed my credentials on to Mike Brody, who met with me and passed my credentials through the chain of command until it got all the way to Audrey, who asked if I would like to serve as an interim. Honestly, I know there was no real process. Like so much of life, I just happened to be there! 

What exactly are the roles and responsibilities of the Dean of Students?

It can differ between colleges. I think it’s reflective of the program and organization of colleges or universities. It should fit the institution. When I worked in northern Arizona, it was mainly student welfare, clubs, organizations, Title IX, student rights and responsibilities, parent and family services, off-campus student life, fraternities and sororities, and so on. The Student Life Office was similar to here at Reed where it has specific functions, but is also sort of a catch all–if you don’t know where to go, you go there. 

Life happens while one is a college student. Illness, loss, accidents all happen, and when they do, we were responsible for getting in touch with faculty. We only share as much as the student is comfortable with, but we verify the student’s story, and request academic accommodations as possible and warranted for the situation. We want to create conditions to help students to be successful. Here at Reed, my main function is helping the office and division of Student Life as Dean and while many searches for positions are conducted. Currently, directly reporting to me is the Associate Dean of Health and Wellbeing, the Associate Dean of Academic Life, and the Associate Dean of Student & Campus Life, which is a new position. I will also be picking up direct supervision of the Assistant Dean of Student Support because our job descriptions tend to overlap. At Reed, for a long, long time, one person held both titles of Dean of Students and the Vice President of Student Life. In response to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter from the U.S. Department of Education, we now see sexual assault as an extreme form of gender discrimination, and from that, the roles diverged. I don’t know that they ever updated the Dean of Students job description, so one of my duties is to clean it up. 

What are your specific goals as dean? 

When the former Dean of Students left, there were so many vacancies in the Student Life Division that the staff at Reed couldn’t quite get their arms around a search. The president looked at all the vacancies and how hard the remaining staff were working and decided to appoint an Interim Dean of Students to take some of the pressure off of the rest of the staff. The first goal is always to serve students best, and by making an Interim appointment, open positions can be filled through regular search processes and timelines.  

I can see that there are some administrative practices that need systematization, but  because the Student Life staff members around here are great communicators, things have been running smoothly. But that only takes you so far. I may be only an Interim, but I do have a fresh set of eyes that I can lend to the process. I hope to help create good progress on the Student Success Initiative and help Mike get things completed the way he wants to. I want to help the new staff come into a place a bit more organized and hit the ground running. And I want to enjoy it here!

Possible plan for a more permanent Dean of Students?

I plan to fulfill my responsibilities, but I am aware that they’re planning a regular search. I have been asked if I’d apply for the permanent role, and that depends on the feedback I receive on my performance and my perception of if I am helping to advance the Reed community. I do think the search for a new Dean of Students will be quite competitive. Reed is an attractive place to work. It’s such a unique and wonderful environment; I’m sure a lot of people will be interested.

What do you think some of the primary challenges of your role will be?

In general, for any Dean of Students role, the boundaries are fuzzy. My particular challenge is that I’ve worked in this area for a long, long time, but the role varies greatly from college to college. At the moment I’m a little overly dependent on web-based guide books and other resources and less on my personal judgement because I want to honor the way things are done. That’s a personal challenge. A challenge for the role is stepping in during a time of a whole lot of change and a lot of pain since without the proper resources these people have been stretched really thin. I do hope to contribute to Student Life and Reed in any way I can.  

What are some things about Reed that you think makes it special?

HUM! Most public colleges and universities are seeking to implement a coherent liberal arts program, and so many schools struggle to fit this. HUM here is on point. I know it’s recently been reimagined to trace the human experience outside of the Mediterannean, and bravo. It is unique to Reed that each student has a common academic experience such as HUM 110 in addition to the Junior Qualifying Exams and, of course, the Senior Thesis. Reed is a fantastic place where you really reconsider what learning is all about. I really enjoy the idea of Paideia, and all of the students, staff and alumni I saw in the workshops. I even took one workshop myself! This is all about people taking seriously what learning does for the human experience and taking responsibility for it.

What else? I’m excited about Renn Fayre. Some of the activities may not be exactly up my alley, but…(laughs) I’m excited by the idea of a big celebration for a huge academic milestone like completing a thesis. This is probably the biggest undertaking of these people’s academic lives, so far. 

Anything else? Stories, advice?

When I was visiting Reed, on the tour, I saw the thesis tower in the library. I had two high school classmates that went to Reed, and I was actually able to go read their theses! It really cracked me up- the topics they wrote on suited them exactly. When we were in high school together, I could see some evidence of the people they’d eventually become embodied in their theses.

So I did the tour, I read the website, I watched the orientation video. And throughout all of it I’ve heard over and over again that ‘Reed is hard’. What does that mean? I think the word ‘hard’ is filled with negative connotations. Have you ever seen those word clouds filled with different people’s interpretations of the same word? I want to see a word cloud for ‘hard’. I’d love to see how different people define it.

I encourage us to expand how we use that word or concept. Is Reed demanding? Yes. Will I need to take responsibility for my education? Yes. But will I have support when I need it? Yes! 

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