Race for Watson's Replacement Narrows

    Although Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson’s term is coming to a close, the selection process for his successor – guided by a search committee of faculty, staff and students – is in full swing. At open forum sessions last week, the committee’s top three candidates fielded questions about their platforms in an effort to gain footing in the race for one of UCSD’s top policymaking offices.

    The committee selected three women – the University of Virginia’s Dean of Students Penny Rue, UC Santa Cruz’s acting Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Marie Scott and the University of Arizona’s Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Melissa Vito – as the primary contenders for the position, which will become vacant when Watson leaves later this month.

    Rue wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on creating a sense of community at large college campuses such as UCSD, and said she intends to focus on different methods of unifying the campus.

    “”A sense of community is made up of many intangibles as well as many practical aspects,”” she said in an e-mail.

    Rue pinpointed student organizations, gathering spaces and “”symbolic aspects, such as rituals and traditions that convey a sense of membership”” as fundamental for a coherent campus community to exist.

    She said she would target the Greek system in an effort to foster community and school pride. She has overseen a blossoming Greek system at her current post at the University of Virginia, where she has promoted “”a partnership with national organizations and alumni to invest in houses and helped student groups create more internal chapter leadership as well as stronger governing councils to provide for more self-governance.””

    When asked about her views about alcohol and drug use on campus, Rue emphasized the importance of substance abuse education, rather than strict enforcement of campus laws.

    “”Alcohol is a challenging issue on almost all residential college campuses, and we take the nationally recommended educational approach that focuses on outreach that is universal and targeted,”” she said.

    Rue’s stance on alcohol differs significantly from Watson’s, as the policies he has established prohibit any advertisement of alcohol, even when doing so could limit turnout for campus events such as Bear Gardens. Rue said she advocates revisiting and revising policies as necessary on a three- to five-year basis.

    As her overarching mission, Rue said she wanted to apply her skills and more than 30 years of experience toward fostering an atmosphere of strong communication and student growth.

    “”My role at both universities, and my professional commitment, is to work closely with students [individually and in organizations] to help them turn their dreams into reality,”” she said.

    Scott also discussed her own views on alcohol policy at her May 31 open forum, saying that she defers to federal and state laws where applicable. She stressed her intention to work closely with the police to enforce policies that will protect students from the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and expressed concern for an increase in student hospitalization and binge drinking at UC campuses.

    With more than 26 years of experience in college administrative positions, Scott has served as the acting vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Santa Cruz since July 2006, following the suicide of then-Chancellor Denice D. Denton.

    Although she considers herself an educator “”first and foremost,”” Scott said her particular strengths lie in residential life, housing and capital building departments.

    When asked by an admissions department staffer which model for admission protocol she favors, Scott was unable to answer the question directly due to her unfamiliarity with admissions procedures.

    “”One of my greatest strengths is my ability to admit my greatest weaknesses,”” she said.

    Additionally, she stressed the importance of a diverse campus where underrepresented students have role models for motivation and inspiration. As an open lesbian herself, Scott said she could serve as such a role model. She affirmed her commitment to creating a “”climate of inclusion,”” sharing with the audience her vision for UCSD as a place where dialogue exists to promote understanding without judgment.

    The campus’s residential college structure appeals to Scott as a vital tool through which the university can provide cocurricular and housing services to students. However, she also emphasized the importance of going beyond the individual colleges to “”create campus unity and identity.””

      On June 1, Vito spoke to the campus and discussed hot-button issues such as the UCSD athletics program and how to address student concerns in the Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction report released last year.

    Vito hails from a university with competitive Division I sports teams, and answered eager inquiries about what she would do for campus athletics, saying that she believes in enhancing recreational programs to ensure the possibility of a well-balanced life for students, and that the campus as a whole could benefit from the programs.

    “”I believe that the existence of a strong athletic program could make for a strong campus community, but it’s not the only option,”” Vito said. “”A strong emphasis on the development of student representation and organization could do this as well.””

    Vito indicated that she had met with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and discussed exploring the option of a campus football team but that they had no concrete plans at this time.

    Placing an emphasis on educating students about drugs and alcohol, but acknowledging that it is important to enforce the rules, Vito’s policies did not deviate much from Rue’s.

    “”The Student Affairs office and the campus police at University of Arizona are partners, but we are not the enforcers,”” she said.

    Vito said she would work to ensure that students experience strong academic support on campus, so that the UCSD community can have a well-balanced life.

    Watson declined to comment on the qualities he is looking for in his successor, in order to give her “”the maximum opportunity to come to [her] own conclusions with respect to plans and priorities.””

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