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Doyle reorganizes Student Affairs

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle did not waste time making changes to his department after he assumed his position last year.

Doyle immediately evaluated the 41 total offices under the Office of Student Affairs, and designed a new structure for the department that took effect June 1.

“I thought about what the structure of Student Affairs needed to be, and I felt it really needed to reflect what my mission and the mission of the congregation of Holy Cross is,” Doyle said. “How do we help students develop into a sense of whole being?”

The Office of Student Affairs is now broken into five divisions — Residential Life, Mission and Integration, Student Services, Finance and Operations and Student Development.

“The Office of Student Affairs isn’t 41 things,” Doyle said. “It’s one. And the one thing it needs to be is integrity, from the Latin ‘integral,’ or whole … The structure tries to reflect what I think is how we put all these things together.”

The reordered office will work more efficiently toward the University’s mission, Doyle said.

“You’re part of the mission that was started by Fr. Moreau and Fr. Sorin about educating people in the fullest and most whole sense of the way. That’s what people come to work for,” Doyle said. “They want to come to work because they want to have an impact on the world, and there’s no better people to work with than Notre Dame students.”

‘Unified diversity’

The most significant change Doyle made was splitting the former Office of Residence Life and Housing into two divisions – Residential Life and Student Development.

The Residential Life branch incorporates the Office of Housing, Doyle said. Student Development includes the Student Activities Office and the Office of Residence Life, which handles student conduct and discipline.

Doyle said he combined the Office of Student Activities and the disciplinary Office of Residence Life because the two branches work for the same goal.

“It’s the same stuff,” Doyle said. “It’s about development. It’s about working and growing from the strengths that you have but also about working from the stumbles and falls that you have.”

Doyle said the name for the Office of Residence Life, the division that deals with student conduct, might change in the future to avoid confusion with the Residential Life branch, which deals with housing.

Residential Life

Heather Rakozcy Russell, former director of the Gender Relations Center, began her position as the associate vice president for Residential Life in April. Her position encompasses management of all hall staff, planning for residential facilities and the Office of Housing.

“My areas to oversee are the 31 rectors, which are 29 undergraduate and two graduate, as well as the Office of Housing,” Russell said. “The Office of Residence Life is going to the conduct office reporting to Brian Coughlin, and housing reports to me.”

Before the reorganization, Russell said groups of five or six rectors reported to separate people in the Office of Student Affairs.

“With regard to my job in particular, the new configuration is that all the rectors now report to one person,” Russell said. “That’s a big switch … Part of Fr. Tom’s vision is to have one person who would be the linchpin over all of the rectors, one voice who would be communicating the same message and the same accountability to all of the rectors.”

Russell, the former rector of Pangborn Hall, said her message is one of “unified diversity.”

“I think there are things that are unique to the halls that should stay unique to the halls,” Russell said. “I also think a big part of my job is to help identify the universals that should cut across and define all residential life to which all rectors are accountable. They are the hallmarks of what we hope build up the halls.”

Russell talked personally with each of the rectors to identify what did and did not work in each hall. She said she would also host discussions with hall staff throughout the year to talk about these issues candidly and in a group.

“I think in a very simple way, people could say residential life is about where you sleep at night,” Russell said. “But I think those of us who have lived in the system there know that it is something very unique, very special, very different than that. It’s about the formation of the students.”

Student Development

Brian Coughlin now serves as the associate vice president of Student Development. His office includes the student conduct branch in the Office of Residence Life, run by Kathleen O’Leary.

As the school year begins, O’Leary called the new structure “fruitful and positive.”

“We see it as an opportunity to take a look at how our office functions, what we do well and what we want to improve,” O’Leary said. “We can make sure everything we do is intentional.”

O’Leary said the office would spend the year fielding feedback from members of the Notre Dame community, benchmarking against peer institutions and hosting focus groups to discuss its policies.

“In the coming year, we are going to be getting feedback from students, staff, faculty, parents and alumni,” O’Leary said. “We are looking at how we improve the work we do. It’s an open book right now.”

The Office of Residence Life deals specifically with conduct, but O’Leary said her staff wants to help students take full advantage of their time at Notre Dame.

“I would hope students would know those people in our office and in the Office of Student Affairs have the same end goal of seeing their success at Notre Dame, seeing them go forward in the world with the same success,” O’Leary said.