Benjamin Lotto was recently selected to be the new Dean of Studies and will be officially starting in July 2014. Lotto is a professor in the Mathematics Department and acted as the Dean of Freshmen for the Class of 2016. The Dean of Studies is responsible for overlooking a number of different areas of college life and operations, including “fellowships and pre-health advising, international programs, career development and the Learning, Teaching and Research Center” (deanofstudies.vassar.edu). The dean works with students concerning a variety of issues including academic difficulties, leaves of absence, and personal issues.
Vassar’s Dean of Studies for the past five years has been Professor of English Joanne Long and the current Acting Dean is professor of English and Africana Studies, Eve Dunbar. The search for the new dean started in the beginning of the school year with the help of a search committee and members of the administration. Dunbar wrote in an emailed statement, “The Dean of Studies search was conducted by a committee consisting of the following people: Barbara Olsen, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies; Michael Pisani, Professor of Music; Elliott Schreiber, Associate Professor of German Studies; Christopher Smart, Associate Professor of Chemistry; Danny Dones, VSA VP for Student Life; Raph Korine, Noyes House President/ BHP Co-Chair; Shruti Manian, VSA VP for Academics.”
She continued, “The members of the search committee worked throughout the fall semester and consulted with President Hill and Dean Roellke to make their final recommendation for appointment.”
Noyes House President Raph Korine spoke to the experience of selecting a new dean. In an e-mailed statement, he wrote, “The process of choosing the new Dean of Studies had several stages. At the very beginning, myself alongside Shruti Manian [’15] (VP for Academics), Genesis Hernandez (former VP for Student Life) and four members of faculty met with Cappy and Chris Roellke to figure out a timeline for the process as well as to gather what Cappy and Chris Roellke were looking for in terms of a new Dean of Studies. The committee then met with several members of the Dean of Studies office, as well as outgoing Dean of Studies Joanne Long to understand what the role entailed, so that we were well prepared for the upcoming interviewing stage.”
He continued, “We then sent out an e-mail allowing members of faculty to either self-nominate or nominate another member of faculty who they thought may be viable.”
Students on campus were also encouraged to nominate members of faculty. Once the nominations period closed, all nominees were sent an e-mail notifying them of their nomination. Three of the nominees accepted: Benjamin Lotto, Carlos Alamo-Pastrana and Diane Harriford.
The next stage of the search involved a one-hour interview with each candidate, with a consistent set of 10 questions dealing with various aspects of the role of Dean of Studies. The interviews were followed by several days of deliberation, as well as two meetings with President Hill.
The deliberation itself lasted for about a week, as there was no clear front-running candidate based off of the interviews.
According to Korine, all three candidates had considerable strengths and weaknesses, all of which varied dramatically. A strength in one candidate was a weakness in another and so on. Ultimately, President Hill had to choose between appointing either Benjamin Lotto or Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, of which she chose the former.
Ben Lotto also commented on why he decided to apply for the position and in what ways he believes he can do a good job. He said, “The Dean of Studies and the offices that report to it play a vital role in fostering Vassar students’ academic opportunity and achievement by supporting the success of students and faculty in their learning and teaching at Vassar. I firmly believe in the values of liberal arts education and have a deep commitment to Vassar’s core values.”
He continued, “Having recently completed a term as Dean of Freshmen in the office of the Dean of Studies, I am passionate about the work of this office in supporting the core mission of the college for all Vassar students. I believe that my strongest assets are my experience and my knowledge of the institution. During my 21 years at Vassar, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with nearly every faculty member and administrator. As I frequently tell students with whom I work, although I may not be able to answer a question or solve your problem, I know the person at Vassar who can.”
As the Dean of Freshmen, Lotto used various platforms to communicate with students. He ran the Vassar Freshman Experience Blog that updated incoming freshmen on housing, choosing classes, orientation, events around school, and other information throughout the year. In addition, Lotto has a twitter account (VCFreshmenDean) where he frequently tweets about campus activities and passes along messages from organizations and departments. On whether the previous role of being Dean of Freshmen prepared him in any way for the new position, he said, “Absolutely. As Dean of Freshmen, I worked side by side with the Dean of Studies for four years. We spoke nearly every day. I served on many — perhaps most — of the committees on which the Dean of Studies serves. I attended every Dean of Studies staff meeting and would, at times, preside over them. One of the best features of the office is the level of collaboration among the staff, and I would regularly consult and be consulted by the Dean of Studies and the other class advisors on difficult situations that would arise.”
He continued, “Also, as Dean of Freshmen, I participated in a number of trainings, including QPR (suicide prevention) and Title IX Investigator Training (for students who are victims of gender-based discrimination, including sexual assault or harassment), providing me with tools for handling some of the most upsetting and sensitive situations that students present to the Dean of Studies office. I also developed a superb working relationship with all of the offices in the Dean of the College Division that provide support for students.”
Speaking to whether or not students should expect any kinds of changes to policies of programs the Dean of Studies oversees in the future, Lotto commented that, “Since I’m not assuming the position until July, I think it’s too early to lay out specific agenda items for the office in the coming years.”
He went further, expressing a desire to stay connected to the community. He said, “However, I know that I want to continue the efforts of the office to make sure that it is accessible and equitable to all Vassar students, and that the functioning of the office is as transparent as possible. I do hope to spend some time during the spring talking with students, faculty, and administrators about their perceptions of the office and what improvements might be made.”
Korine expressed enthusiasm for the selection of Lotto as the new Dean of Studies. He said, “Ben Lotto had many strengths in terms of the role of dean of studies. He clearly had a lot of experience with the office, being an outgoing Dean of Freshmen, displayed strengths in time management, organization and leadership and seemed very motivated about the position.”