Vice President and Dean of Students Steps Down to Return to Faculty

Former+Vice+President+and+Dean+of+Students+Meredith+Raimondo+stepped+down+from+her+role+earlier+this+week.

Courtesy of Meredith Raimondo

Former Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo stepped down from her role earlier this week.

Meredith Raimondo will step down from her role as Vice President and Dean of Students at the end of the spring 2021 semester. After taking a sabbatical, Raimondo will return to her previous position as a tenured faculty member in 2023. 

Raimondo was named dean of students in November 2016, after starting the position on an interim basis a few months earlier in July. During her tenure, Raimondo dealt with significant challenges, including a structural budget deficit, the Gibsons Bakery lawsuit, and a global pandemic. Raimondo’s departure was announced on Jan. 29 in an email to the Oberlin community. 

“During her nearly five years as dean, Meredith elevated Oberlin’s dining options; strengthened the collaboration between Student Senate and other student organizations and the senior leadership team; and forged important partnerships among students, staff, and faculty in support of initiatives such as OC Votes and ObieSafe,” President Ambar wrote. “We thank Meredith for her deep dedication to this work.”

When Raimondo first came into her role, lines of communication between students and the Oberlin’s senior staff were strained. Raimondo spearheaded the creation of recurring meetings with Student Senate and helped connect senators to trustees and other important members of the Oberlin leadership team. 

“If there was any area that I would highlight during her time here in this role, it would be the work that she’s done to engage with students,” President Ambar said. “One of the areas where Meredith really helped our senior leadership team was building the relationship between student leadership and the administration.”

Other notable work includes Raimondo’s efforts to strengthen programming related to student life. 

“Some examples include the development of SHARE, the expansion of Barefoot dialogue, the new vision for student activities, and enhancement of Orientation — but the credit goes to the amazing staff in [the Division of] Student Life, with whom it has been an enormous privilege to work,” Raimondo wrote in an email to the Review.

Raimondo will also be remembered for her work with Student Senate to move the Student Health and Counseling Center from its old location near Mercy Allen Hospital to a more central location in Dascomb Hall. Moving the center was controversial at the time because it resulted in the closure of the Dascomb Dining Hall in 2018, which had previously been home to Fourth Meal. However, many students now enjoy easier access to student health services.

Raimondo was also confronted by significant challenges during her time as dean of students, most notably by the Gibson’s lawsuit. Raimondo was named as a defendant in the lawsuit in 2017 after she was accused of participating in a student-led protest against the bakery. Throughout the litigation, the administration has denied wrongdoing, and President Ambar stated that the lawsuit did not contribute to Raimondo’s choice to step back. 

“I cannot say that as strongly as I want to,” President Ambar said. “This has absolutely nothing to do with Gibson’s. This really has to do with the strategic direction of the institution. … “These are tough jobs, they take a lot out of you. … When you’re in these jobs, there are always these moments where the senior staff member and the president think, ‘Have we done all the things we can do in the context of you in this role?’ That happens with every senior staff person.”

During her tenure, Raimondo was also tasked with overseeing changes related to a structural financial deficit. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, the Academic and Administrative Program Review assessed the financial viability of the College and Conservatory. After the committee made controversial recommendations for OSCA and the outsourcing of unionized campus dining and custodial workers, Raimondo coordinated discussions with student leaders. 

“Financial challenges and the national political climate have been significant concerns during this time,” Raimondo wrote. “I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with student leaders as we worked through these issues — while we may not have always agreed on the decisions, I hope there has been an environment of serious listening and mutual respect.”

Both President Ambar and College fourth-year and Interim Student Senate Co-chair Caleb Knapp acknowledge that there will always be room for disagreement between students and the administration. 

“It can be very, very challenging and difficult sometimes where there’s work that we will work like weeks, months on for only to hear, ‘Oh, we can’t do this anymore,’” Knapp said. “It definitely just goes to the larger administrative relationship that can be difficult sometimes.”

Raimondo looks forward to returning to her position on the faculty. During her time as a Comparative American Studies professor she was well regarded and won an Excellence in Teaching Award. She returned to the classroom this semester to teach a CAST class called The Coalition of the Future: How We Combat White Nationalism and Weave the Fabric of Democracy. 

“I thought she was a great professor and [Introduction to Comparative American Studies] was one of the best classes I took at Oberlin outside of my major,” Melanie Malinas, OC ’13, wrote in an email to the Review. “Also, the material I learned in that class stuck with me for a long time and I still think back to stuff I learned in that class and it was over 10 years ago!”

The College will begin a national search for the next dean of students, partnering with the firm Isaacson Miller. The search is expected to last through the spring and summer semester, and the administration hopes to hire a candidate before the start of the fall semester. 

Students will participate in the search, as they have with previous senior staff hires. Last academic year, three students were included on the committee that ultimately hired Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Kamitsuka, as well as the committee that hired and the Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen. 

“I do think it’s very important to have students, not just from Senate,” said Knapp. “I think there needs to be students from different racial demographics, different clubs, different interest groups and organizations. There definitely needs to be a good representation of students that are actually in this behind-the-scenes process.”

The next dean of students will need to come into the office prepared to tackle pressing challenges coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial strains that colleges around the nation are facing.  

“What this provides us with is an opportunity to look at student life anew, and to spend some time assessing what things we really do well, but also thinking about areas where we might shift our attention,” Ambar said. “What does it mean to strengthen our student activities and our residential life experience? All those pieces that are outside the classrooms — student organizations, dining services — all those things.”