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Student Affairs leadership sees changes, former HRL head now working on COVID-19 priorities

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Student Affairs is undergoing changes in leadership and structure, particularly within Housing and Residence Life, with the former head of HRL now working on pandemic planning.

The changes come as the Next Generation Living and Learning 2.0 Committee begins its work, Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost for student affairs, told The Chronicle in an email. McMahon wrote that although the outcomes of the committee’s work are not predetermined, she is “concurrently working with the HRL team to prepare for a shift in that team’s focus after the pandemic.”

“Soon the structures of our student-facing residential program will need to align more closely with faculty, alumni, and initiatives that effectuate a more robust and comprehensive living and learning model,” she wrote. “This change in approach in HRL is part of the larger shift of student affairs senior leadership, too.” 

Joe Gonzalez, formerly assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life, stepped away from leading HRL Dec. 1, according to McMahon, and in the future he will work with McMahon and Vice President of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh on priorities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Deb LoBiondo is interim dean of HRL for the rest of the academic year, overseeing housing operations, residential life staff and East and West Campus deans. Duke will launch a national search for its next HRL director in early 2021, McMahon wrote. 

“I am proud to join the University’s pandemic response efforts,” Gonzalez wrote in an email. 

He wrote that he is currently helping plan the return to campus in the spring, including entry testing and move-in, as well as coordinating the compliance team and surveillance testing. He anticipates becoming involved in more areas in the new year. 

Several other leadership changes have taken place within student affairs, McMahon wrote. John Blackshear has taken over as dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs, while Greg Victory is now assistant vice president of student affairs and the Fannie Mitchell executive director of the Career Center. 

Duke is interviewing finalists for associate vice president of campus life over winter break, McMahon wrote.

Meanwhile, Caroline Nisbet is retiring in the spring as associate vice president of resource administration, and her role will be replaced by the position of vice dean of finance. The former director of facilities project management left in the spring, and that role will also be reclassified to reflect the larger change in how Student Affairs is coordinated, McMahon wrote. 

“Within HRL, we're …  going to refocus the residential programming side (RA, RC, GA, Assistant and Associate Deans) to have a more developmental and ongoing training focus than that program has right now,” she wrote, referring to student and administrative positions within HRL.

She noted that some functions previously housed in HRL are now part of a “combined operational team” in Student Affairs. The residential housekeeping and residential facilities teams now report to Chris Rossi, assistant vice president of student affairs for strategic engagement. 

The Next Generation Living and Learning team, announced last month, aims to reshape Duke’s residential experience. It is bound by certain specific guidelines, including moving rush for selective living groups to sophomore year and creating a “residential community” system on West Campus. 

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