Student Affairs Head Stresses Need for Community

    Recently appointed Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue (left) and Chancellor Marye Anne Fox applaud a speaker at the Welcome Week convocation held on Sept. 23 at Sun God lawn.

    After a months-long search to replace Joseph W. Watson as vice chancellor of student affairs, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox hired former University of Virginia Dean of Students Penny Rue this summer to tackle the hefty and often controversial job. Only weeks into her new position, Rue said she plans to gauge the needs for campus community by talking firsthand with students.

    After Watson announced his retirement last year, Fox began the recruitment process by assembling a search committee, which she co-chaired with former Sixth College Provost Gabriele Wienhausen.

    Wienhausen said there were many applications for the position, though not all met the committee’s specifications.

    “Not all applicants had demonstrated records of success in all the areas of the job portfolio the university was looking for,” she said.

    The 24-person search committee — five of whom were students — selected three of the strongest candidates for intensive, day-long interviews that included an opportunity for the public to meet the candidate and provide feedback.

    Rue had been the dean of students at the University of Virginia since 1999, and prior to that, senior associate dean of students at Georgetown University. The other two top candidates were Jean Marie Scott, the acting vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Santa Cruz, and Melissa Vito, the vice provost of student affairs and dean of students at the University of Arizona.

    “We were critical of applicants who had not familiarized themselves with UCSD’s challenges,” said Chris Sholley, former A.S. representative and a member of the search committee. “Dr. Rue adeptly understood that many UCSD students graduate without the sense of a ‘college experience.’”

    Having completed her dissertation on the elements that develop a sense of community on college campuses, Rue stood out from the other candidates.

    “Her very first comment to us expressed her desire to make the community at UCSD as strong as the academics at UCSD,” Graduate Student Association representative and committee member Aaron Parker said. “I was immediately impressed with Dr. Rue as soon as the interview began. She has a very effective, direct and articulate way of communicating. She was energetic, had a sense of humor and was completely at ease in a room full of strangers asking very tough and specific questions of her.”

    Weinhausen said the committee was told to provide Fox a list of the finalists in a non-ranked order, which she then used to make a final decision.

    Rue’s appointment began on Sept. 10, and since then she has hit the ground running.

    “The best analogy I can give is ‘drinking from a fire hose’ — there’s a lot to absorb very quickly,” Rue said. “I’m trying to go to as many events as I can. … It’s a little hectic, but that is student affairs and that’s what makes it fun.”

    Rue said that she was quite happy with her duties at UVA and wasn’t originally looking for a new job. But once she had an opportunity to learn about UCSD, she decided to apply for the position.

    “I guess the real opportunity was the sense that this is really an institution on the rise,” Rue said. “Virginia was a fabulous place and I loved being there. The whole time I had been there, it had been the number-one or number-two public university in the country, with UC Berkeley being the other school. And that’s not going to change there.”

    Rue cited UCSD’s youth and ambition as two primary reasons she decided to move across the country for a position similar to her prior job at UVA.

    “This is an institution that really has room to move and is excited about being entrepreneurial and trying new things, positioning itself for real leadership in higher education,” she said. “The weather is not bad either.”

    Since her arrival, Rue has made it a priority to talk with students and develop relationships to facilitate a sense of campus community. From assisting with move-in and serving ice cream alongside Fox at Triton Power Hour, to eating hot dogs with athletes and square dancing with international students, she has made an effort to get to know the students she represents.

    “I got into this business to be in relationships with students,” Rue said. “That’s not going to change. That may mean that I allocate my time differently than other people would, but, this role wouldn’t be any fun for me if I didn’t get the opportunities to be in conversations with students about what they really cared about.”

    Many students and staff, including Rue, have agreed that leading student affairs is a difficult job.

    “She’s adapting to the campus quickly, even though as far as I could tell she didn’t really grasp the campus politics earlier,” former A.S. president and member of the search committee Harry Khanna said.

    Rue has invited her staff to speak to her to create a friendly and encouraging environment. However, she also plans to personally analyze what the campus climate is like.

    “I will become one of the chief transmitters of the [UCSD] culture — one of the people that help tell others what’s special about this place,” Rue said. “So, I can read about what’s written about that, but I need to get my own feel for that and I do that primarily in relationships with students.”

    To create the sense of community that she feels UCSD needs, Rue has made one of her goals the creation of campus traditions, like those at UVA and Georgetown. At UVA, she was responsible for helping create a student activity center and an office of fraternity and sorority life to support student life.

    Rue acknowledges that she cannot simply transplant such traditions here, but hopes that her conversations with students and the resources she has available will “springboard into traditions.”

    The vice chancellor of student affairs position oversees nearly every department impacting students, including admissions, enrollment, residential life, sports facilities and programs, student educational advancement, student life, student policies and judicial affairs, career services, intercollegiate athletics, the international center and student research and information — and comes with an annual salary of $215,000.

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