New Dean of Students here to help but not to stay

Kurt C. Holmes. Photo courtesy of
Kurt C. Holmes. Photo courtesy of

Want to give Kurt Holmes, the interim Dean of Students, an “earful” about student life over orange juice and omelets? Well, Holmes wants that too.

In the first profile of a new series focusing on administrators who have a major impact on the OWU community, Holmes gets real about why his position is only an interim one, why he left his full­-time job at the College of Wooster after 14 years and what has surprised him most about OWU.

Q: So you’re the interim Dean of Students here while our previous dean, Kimberly Goldsberry, fills another role. How did you hear about this position at OWU?

A: The connection was I’ve known Kimberly [Goldsberry] and Craig Ullom through professional circles, and I put out on ListServ that I was taking time out to do some other things, and Kimberly said, “Before you make any commitments, I have a challenge.” She had just gotten word that Craig was going to be stepping down to half­-time and she was going to be taking the interim role, so we spent about several weeks haggling because she would like to have me down here full­time, but with so many other projects I was working on I said I can’t really commit to full­time. I’m here about three days a week. I come here Wednesdays, I stay overnight Thursday, so I’m around just some extra time, that sort of thing. I guess technically it’s a three­-day-­a-­week gig.

Q: What do you do the other days of the week?

A: Well, some of it is I have a son who’s looking at colleges and doing his senior year, and I’ve been a chief student affairs officer—that’s what I was doing at Wooster—and you don’t have a whole lot of time to give to family in that respect. We all joke in the profession that someday we’re going to do some writing about all the crazy things that happen, so I’m actually trying at the very least to start some chapters and get some work done. I don’t know if I’ll pull off publishable work yet, but before my memory fades it’s probably time to make some of that into actual text.

Q: So you’re thinking of writing a book then?

A: It’s part of what I’m working on. I don’t want to commit to any publication dates or anything but I say you can make it through college on the student affairs side if you follow three rules really, and they’re not very hard: don’t drink so much, keep your hands to yourself, and your pants on. Most of the really bad problems, aside from the fact that you got to go to class and to work, avoid themselves. And I know too many cases where students didn’t do one or more of those rules.

Q: So the main reason you left your position at the College of Wooster after 14 years for a part- time, interim position here is because of family?

A: Well, there are a lot of factors. They’re in transition up there as well. They have an interim president and are going to get a new president, so the timing was right in that respect, along with some other things. You don’t get to have sabbaticals very often on the administrative side, and so if you’re going to have time to do other things you’re going to have to find ways to carve that out. I could have chosen the faculty route, but I like what I do. I like working with students, but it doesn’t come with any chance to go study or do something.

Q: Do you know when you’ll be leaving your position at OWU?

A: The agreement is I’m here through the year, and I assume that’s the plan for when they’re going to do the hiring as well. The plan is more of a presidential question.

Q: Do you know what will happen to the Dean of Students position after your term concludes?

A: No, and I think President Jones has the whole division of leadership kind of on the table with that it’s the time to make those kind of big picture assessments. You know, it’s not very often you get a senior leadership transition, so I know he’s spending a lot of time working with the president’s officers—the other VPs—figuring out what to post and what the structure should look like. My guess is it would be a huge change for them not to hire someone in a pretty traditional chief student affairs officer [position], but I think some of the questions include what the jobs look like and what the structure of working with that person is going to look like.

Q: What are your plans or goals for after you leave OWU?

A: I don’t know yet. That’s the fun part too. Honestly, in the back of my mind was that this is the time we tell students you’re going to go through four or five careers, not just jobs, in your lifetime, and I’ve been in student life my whole career. And I thought, well, it’s time to look at some other things. And, to be honest, I was doing an awful lot of administrative work and less student contact, and this role, the way it’s configured, is to do a lot of student contact. It reminds me why I like student affairs, so it might be talking me back into the same sort of work.

Q: Is it difficult to be away from your family while you’re here?

A: I have a daughter who’s at college at Allegheny [College] and I have a son who’s a senior [in high school]. They’re not around all that much anyway. But that’s part of the reason I’m home on the weekends when [my son] is doing things, so we’re able to connect there. And the commute is not too bad.

Q: What has surprised you most about OWU and its students?

A: It’s been good to see just how engaged they are in things that go on. Meaning, looking at the campus from the outside and being a student life person, I’ve always kind of said, “Really? This little narrow, pinch­point campus seems to be divided in the middle, between academic and residence life. And the surprising way that the JayWalk becomes the living room for the campus has been great to see. I have a birds-eye view [from my office] and I can see what’s going on and then duck out. In fact, I just caught lunch sitting at a table [near the JayWalk], just to watch and listen.

Q: How does student life at OWU differ from student life at Wooster?

A: Where it happens. As I said, I’m here two nights a week and so I cruise around campus trying to see what social life is like and where the energy spots are, and I was very surprised that [the Hamilton­-Williams Campus Center] gets so quiet in the evening. But again, it’s not the thoroughfare in the evening that it is during the day. That’s been an interesting observation about the rhythm of the campus and how it flows. It’s a great indication of the way all of you operate. I walked the library one night on the outside, and there’s got to be several hundred carrels, and there were probably twelve students using them. But every chair in an open space around a common seating area was packed with people. I also noticed people were actually respecting the quiet third floor rule the evening I was there. It shows how a generation of students interacts in different ways. They don’t want to hunker down in their carrel, they want to be out and about.

Q: Have you been able to see much of Delaware? What are your thoughts on the town?

A: That’s been a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been able to do much in Delaware yet, but I’ve also gotten to see the town. You think of it often as a suburb of Columbus, but it has an awful lot to offer itself.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you want students, faculty, and staff to know?

A: I don’t know. I tend to be more of an open book, so I’ve made the pitch every time I talk with students. Find me. I’m around if someone wants to give me an earful. One of the things President Jones has asked me to do is give feedback on the institution as I go, so while not officially in an outside viewer or consultant role, every couple of weeks I feed him a memo of observations. So, I have to find those by talking to people. I made the offer at student government, and one student took me up on meeting me for breakfast. If you want to catch breakfast, give a holler.

Q: What kinds of things have you put in the memos?

A: The first one really focused on the differences I saw in how opening and move in and orientation, those kinds of things, operated. But some of it is going to be about, well, the college has done some reductions in staffing and what are the implications of that? Every college is worried about retention and keeping students, and coming in with an outside eye and having been at other similar schools, [I notice] what works and what doesn’t work in making the student experience positive, which is why I want to catch up with as many students as possible this year.

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