After several recent public miscues, Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, is slated to retire at the end of June. Mary Pat McMahon, the incoming vice provost/vice president for campus life, will succeed Moneta in the role.
McMahon, who last served as the dean of student affairs at Tufts University’s Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, will bring 22 years of administrative experience to her new position at Duke. She is excited to open a new chapter in the leadership of Duke’s campus life.
“I took the job because it’s so clear to me that Duke is an incredible community of learners and good humans who want to do brilliant things in the world,” McMahon said.
After completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in history at Yale University, McMahon went on to earn her Master of Science degree in history of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She then returned to Yale as the assistant director of undergraduate admissions, before leaving to serve as the associate director of doctoral programs at the New York University Stern School of Business. She then took on a six-year stint with Bowdoin, working as an assistant dean, and later as associate dean of student affairs.
At Bowdoin, McMahon helped develop the college’s residential learning program through its College House program, and oversaw the experience of first-year students. She advised students on academic and personal topics, and provided guidance to judicial and sexual misconduct board hearing processes.
She seeks to lend an ear to student voices on campus and spend time understanding the Duke experience.
Christopher Rossi, associate dean of student affairs at Tufts University, spoke to the importance that McMahon places on student opinions and perspective.
“She’s a person that centers students and amplifies student voices in institutional positions,” Rossi said. “Being a dean means you have to be proactive in being a visible presence in the community in a way that students feel like they know you and they feel like you are approachable.”
Moneta’s handlings of hate speech incidents were met with controversy during his time at Duke. McMahon has also dealt with her fair share of hate speech and vandalism at Tufts. Recent incidents at Tufts include the egging of students and the appearance of slogans in support of President Donald Trump on the Tufts Cannon.
Although McMahon recognized the personal directive behind hate speech and its ubiquitous effects on students, she declined to answer any specific questions regarding hate speech at Duke until she had familiarized herself with Duke’s policies.
The response to the #thethreepercent movement at Tufts in 2015—inspired by the Boston Globe’s reporting that only three percent of students at some Boston area universities identified as black—was a highlight of McMahon’s tenure at Tufts. At the time, 3.9% of Tufts students were black.
Two hundred protesters marched through Tufts in November 2015, which pushed McMahon’s office to take action.
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In an effort to diversify Tufts, McMahon led efforts to hire an African American clinician for the Africana Center—Tufts’ analog of Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. During her tenure, the Student Affairs office at Tufts worked on the development of Students’ Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora—a pre-orientation program geared toward incoming black students.
More recently, McMahon served on Tufts’ Student Life Review Committee, where she pushed for the Board of Trustees to create a Student Affairs Subcommittee, which solidified student life as a focus for the Board.
Furthermore, McMahon led a town hall meeting as vacant or soon-to-be-vacant director positions at Tufts’ Latino Center, Asian American Center and Women’s Center prompted concern amongst students.
Tufts’ undergraduate African American population has increased by 0.4% between 2015 and 2018, from 3.9% to 4.3%. In comparison, in 2016, 7.09% of undergraduate and graduate students at Duke identified as black, and 11% of first-year undergraduate students in the 2017-2018 academic year identified as black.
McMahon has not yet developed a course of action for her role at Duke, but she has already met with several Duke undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, administrators and alumni. She looks forward to becoming an “advocate for and ally to Duke students.”
“My first priority will be to spend time listening to student leaders, students who are new to the place and graduate students,” McMahon said. “I don’t want to assume that the things I know about other campuses necessarily maps right onto the Duke experience.”
In an email to The Chronicle, Provost Sally Kornbluth addressed the change in title from vice president for student affairs to vice provost/vice president for campus life. Kornbluth explained that McMahon will work closely with the Office of the Provost to facilitate “greater synergies between campus life and undergraduate education,” under the leadership of Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education.
McMahon’s dual title of vice president, Kornbluth noted, reflects her role in managing housing and dining, and it means she will report to Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.
“The title is meant to reflect the centrality of student affairs in campus life and the important role of the student affairs director in impacting life for all of our students on campus,” Kornbluth wrote.