College Appoints Karen C. Goff New Vice President and Dean of Students

The College announced the appointment of a new Vice President and Dean of Students, Karen C. Goff, who will start working this fall. Goff’s appointment was announced on Tuesday in an email from President Carmen Twillie Ambar. Goff has worked at Agnes Scott College as vice president for student affairs and dean of students for the past five years and will officially begin at Oberlin on Sept. 20. 

The Dean of Students role has been vacant since former Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo left her position in early April. A search committee chaired by Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Kamitsuka and facilitated by the firm Isaacson-Miller has been looking for someone to fill the position for the past four months.

“Dean Goff is a passionate student- and results-oriented leader who brings a wealth of experience and accomplishment to Oberlin,” Kamitsuka wrote in an email to the Review. “She is a wonderful community builder. I am confident that students, faculty, and staff will find her to be an exceptionally wise, creative, warm, and accessible dean. I am thrilled that she is joining the Oberlin community.”

For Goff, the decision to leave Agnes Scott was a difficult one, but she was excited to join Oberlin for some of its unique qualities.

“I particularly was intrigued with Oberlin because of its deep and abiding commitment to academic excellence, creative excellence, and artistic excellence, just coming together,” Goff said. “Another thing that was very important to me was its history and commitment to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. So when I heard that, I said, ‘Well, this is something that is in the ethos of this college and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?’”

Goff comes to Oberlin at a time when the Division of Student Life has experienced some administrative turnover; a week after Raimondo left, the College announced that Executive Director of the Career Development Center and Associate Dean of Students Dana Hamdan would take a job at Brown University. In mid-May, Associate Dean Matthew Hayden resigned from his role to take a position at Cuyahoga Community College. Three weeks later, Assistant Vice President of Student Life Adrian Bautista took a position at Skidmore College. A few weeks ago, Eddie Gisemba, assistant dean of students and director of health promotion for students, left as well. 

While the many vacancies in the division present challenges, they also bring an opportunity to re-envision Student Life at Oberlin. In June, President Ambar said in an interview with the Review that the College was waiting to fill the vacant positions until it had identified a vice president and dean of students, so that the new dean could participate in building the office.

“We want to give the new VP the opportunity to be actively involved in those searches,” President Ambar said in June. “That’s one of the exciting opportunities for this new vice president: they have the opportunity to shape leadership of the division. That’s one of the things that I think is attractive to candidates.”

While Goff sees the challenges Oberlin’s Student Life team faces in this moment, she also agrees that being able to mold the personnel of Student Life is a unique opportunity.

“I certainly appreciate President Ambar and others for thinking of that,” Goff said. “I do think that was a very prudent and smart move. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to reevaluate what we’re doing. … I know that I’m going to have to hit the ground running and it’s going to be quick. I may have to tap into some of my network, but it’s actually kind of exciting to me.”

Clare Rahm has temporarily filled the senior leadership role in Student Life as special assistant to the president for Student Affairs since June 14. 

In Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Community Life and Standards Thom Julian’s view, the Division remained functional throughout the summer semester.

“While our division has been excitedly awaiting the appointment of a new vice president for student affairs, my colleagues did an amazing job at offering a meaningful summer semester experience while planning for the 2021–2022 academic year,” Julian wrote in an email to the Review. “Clare Rahm stepped into a leadership role effectively. I was really proud of the teamwork and leadership exhibited by the rest of the Student Life staff during this interim period.”

When Goff came to her current position, Agnes Scott was experiencing challenges in its Student Life division, which Goff was able to overcome.

“Agnes Scott has always had a high academic reputation, but in terms of looking at the full complement of the student experience, the Division of Student Affairs didn’t seem to always be an equal partnership with the academic side,” Goff said. “And I am sensing for whatever reason that there might be some similar challenges in that way [at Oberlin]. … It’s really elevating the student experience, making it a priority. Making sure that staff felt supported, they had the resources that they needed to do their job and to serve our students effectively. And I have to say in all honesty, I think I’ve accomplished all of that.”

Julian is excited to see the way that Goff leads the division in the upcoming school year.

“Karen has a track record of being a dynamic leader who prioritizes effective relationships across campus, which is integral to the role,” Julian wrote. “I am very excited to see how Karen’s data-driven approach intentionally focuses on concrete improvements for the student experience and showcases the importance of student affairs work. I am also excited to see what collaborations Karen will help us build.”

Goff says she plans to prioritize student input in her approach. 

“I try to look at the student experience in a very holistic framework,” Goff said. “So if you can’t invite the student voice to the table, I think that’s a miss. If the students are who we are here to serve then I can’t just say I’m serving you without knowing what is it that you want.”

For Goff, departing Agnes Scott will be difficult. This week, when it was announced she was transitioning to Oberlin, Goff got a flurry of texts and emails from students expressing their sadness that she was leaving. However, Goff looks forward to moving to Ohio and getting to know Obies. 

“I’ve never left an institution where my students or the people with whom I work don’t feel like, ‘Oh, please don’t go,’ which I think is a great thing because I’ve always put students first,” Goff said. “That’s the mantra, by the way: wherever I work, whether it’s the Midwest, the Northeast or the South, if I’m working with students, my mantra is students first.”