Meet the interim dean revitalizing his college – University Business | Team Cansler

Belonging, caring, accountability, presence, learning and identity. These are the six student-inspired principles proposed by the acting Dean of the University of Oxford College of Emory, Dr. Kenneth Carter, at the faculty level to revitalize the community… and it’s working.

Oxford College is one of nine different schools within Emory University. According to Carter, most students enroll in Oxford for the first two years of their undergraduate studies and then go to Emory to graduate.

As it is a rather small college, there are around 28 students in the largest classes. Carter says they try to keep the student-to-faculty ratio at about 1:10.

Photo credit: beckysteinphotography.com

From a faculty perspective, student thriving is one of the most important goals for Oxford leaders. For Carter, his background puts him in a unique position to support his student body.

“I went to Oxford College as an undergraduate,” he says. “I think I may be the only dean who was a student, a faculty member, and now in administration. I feel like I see the school from all the different angles. On the very first day of moving in, I inspected the halls of residence and helped with moving in. I saw my old dorm room and showed on the wall where the phone booth used to be.”

This experience, he explains, helps him understand students’ perspectives while meeting the needs of the college’s faculty. “Colleges are complex institutions, so being able to empathize with alumni, current students, faculty and staff really puts me in a unique position this year.”

Carter also comes from a background in psychology, to which he credits much of his ability to implement strategies to improve the well-being of his students and faculty. “For me, being a psychologist is part of my identity,” he says. “I’ve worked a lot with Chris Peterson, who was one of the founders of the positive psychology movement. This is the idea of ​​using psychological principles to help people live happier lives. I think a lot of things we do use these principles of psychology to focus on what people need right now.”

Photo credit: beckysteinphotography.com

Fortunately, he explains, the students have already developed a framework that helps him and his colleagues in their work. The six principles listed above are what are known as the Oxford Principles. During the pandemic, students were asked to think about what they would like to see in a post-pandemic world and what norms they would like to implement in their community.

“These are sort of student-centric principles that we’ve also adopted as community principles for faculty and staff,” says Carter. “One of the things I did this year was to challenge the community to focus on one of these principles each month. For the first month we focused on belonging and I challenged everyone to think of something they can do to help another person feel a part of this community.”

During their new faculty induction, he asked each new member what goals they have set for this year. Whether introducing yourself to a student each day or sitting around a table with strangers, every effort brings the campus closer to its mission.

“To me, when a person does that, it’s incredible,” he says. “But when a whole community focuses on it, it can really change the nature of things. Taking that focus that the students have created and lifting it for the community is part of what makes a difference, I think, in my opinion, when it comes to revitalizing the community and making people feel like this is a place where they belong.”

Carter took the helm in August, quite a pivotal time in education as many college teachers hope this will mark the first year of normalcy since the pandemic. He accepted the position with the proviso that he would not apply for permanent dean. He believes this will allow him to fully pursue his goals for the college and meet the needs of his students and staff.

Since the pandemic, he’s noticed that there’s a lot of burnout in the campus community, despite weathering the peak of the pandemic better than most, he says. However, Carter has spawned four new initiatives that have helped increase engagement, bring more people to campus, and create a sense of ease, according to feedback he received from students and staff.

First and foremost, he strives to fulfill the college’s educational mission by focusing on what matters. Second, he conducted what he calls “taking stock” to set the next dean on the road to success: “We want to make sure we understand who we are as a community and what’s important to us, but also what the challenges are are they appearing before us?”

Third, he wants to fight a product of the pandemic that plagues many universities: burnout. “What I think some people do when they’re trying to fight is isolate themselves, and as a psychologist, I know isolation isn’t going to help burnout at all.”

Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, Carter believes in revitalizing his campus community.

“Oxford is a very small college with about 1,000 students in the first two years, but a very tight-knit community,” he explains. “But I think the community has taken a small toll at the height of the pandemic. We created course schedules to keep people off campus. But I didn’t want people to come back to campus. I wanted to make sure there was some flexibility for employees. I wanted to give people a reason to want to go back.”

A unique way to incentivize student and staff attendance on campus is to eliminate two classes per week and use that time for campus-wide events.

Photo credit: beckysteinphotography.com

“Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:15 am is a very popular time to teach, but we won’t have classes,” he says. “We’re going to do things on the quad, we’re going to have dance parties, we’re going to have all sorts of different things to bring the community back together.”

What is exceptional, Carter explains, is the willingness of faculty members to unanimously agree not to teach if it means creating a welcoming and positive school environment.

“I think that’s the kind of place Oxford is,” he says. “We really focus on teaching, we focus on student experience, we focus on student thriving. Everyone comes to Oxford – students, faculty and staff – to create an environment in which students can thrive. If you create a structure where it’s easier for people to do this, I think people will step up and do it.”


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