c/o Wesleyan University

c/o Wesleyan University

Dean for Academic Advancement Laura Patey announced in an email to the class of 2024 on Thursday, Nov. 17, that Class Dean David Phillips will retire at the end of the Fall 2022 semester. Phillips is the current dean for the class of 2024 and has been a class dean at the University for 22 years. A committee of students, faculty, and staff is currently in the process of finding a replacement.

During his time at the University, Phillips advised countless students, monitoring their academic progress and providing support by connecting them to academic and non-academic campus resources, from the Dean’s Peer Tutoring Program to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

“To really be able to do your job as a class dean, you need to understand the reasons for poor academic performance,” Phillips said. “The role of the class dean is to figure out what is the real cause of things and address the cause rather than just the symptom. If you’re having family difficulties and you do poorly in chemistry, you don’t need a tutor.”

Phillips joined the Office of Student Affairs in the summer of 2000 after four years of teaching American history at Bennington College. Although he graduated from the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz with a major in studio art, he decided to become a historian, receiving a master’s degree in social history from UC Santa Cruz and a PhD in American Studies from Yale.

“When I was on faculty at Bennington, I saw my relationship with students to be more purely academic and intellectual,” Phillips said. “It’s not like I didn’t care about their lives, but my engagement with students was in the classroom and in advising for course choices…. Taking on the class dean job really expanded my horizon in terms of working with students to be more aware of that co-curricular side.”

Phillips was born in New Haven, Connecticut, but spent most of his early life traveling because his father was a foreign service officer. He has lived in India, New Zealand, Mexico, and the Philippines.

“Education was sort of the anchor in my life,” Phillips said. “We lived in so many different countries, and being in school was sort of the one constant thing in my life, so I guess it’s appropriate that I’m in higher education.”

Over the course of Phillips’ time at the University, he has seen it undergo a number of changes. These changes include the creation of new minors and certificates, large increases in the cost of tuition, and the reorganization of the class dean role. Amidst these changes, Phillips has served as the faculty advisor for visiting students participating in the Twelve College Exchange and as the the faculty representative for the Truman Scholarship and Beinecke Scholarship. Additionally, he has overseen the University degree and helped implement the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program.

“Learning people’s backgrounds and everything is a big part of it,” Phillips said. “You get to know people for four years and then they graduate and you have a new first-year class and that process starts again. The students are the most interesting part of the job.”

Phillips is also the data coordinator for the Office of Academic Advancement, overseeing the semesterly academic review and annual senior review. During these reviews, the Office of Academic Advancement looks at students’ grades and credits to determine academic standing and ensure that students are on track to graduate in their majors. As data coordinator, Phillips has also developed many of the tools in WesPortal that students are now familiar with, including the credit analysis report.

“We monitor students’ grades and their credits, and if we sense that people are a little bit low on credits, we reach out and encourage them to do better,” Phillips said. “If we learn a student has earned unsatisfactory grades, we work with those students to connect them to support resources so they can improve their academic performance.”

The new dean for the class of 2024 has not yet been selected, but a search committee, which includes two students, is currently in the process of reviewing candidates. After receiving a set of pre-determined criteria, the search committee interviewed applicants in a round of Zoom meetings. As a result of these interviews, the committee has extended invitations to three of the candidates to come to campus, according to Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Student Life Committee Chair Orly Meyer ’24.

“There’s a student lunch, which I’ll be attending along with some other [WSA] senators and various students from around campus,” Meyer said. “Then we’ll also interview the candidate and meet with them at other points in the day, and they’re gonna meet with other administrators and faculty to learn about the position and have people meet them.”

These on-campus meetings will be happening on Friday, Dec. 9, Tuesday, Dec. 13, and Wednesday, Dec. 14. According to Meyer, the committee will likely extend a job offer to their selected candidate shortly after. In the meantime, Patey and other class deans will helping fill in for the role.

“The other class deans will be available to students in the class of 2024 over winter break, and we are planning for the new class dean to be in place by the start of classes in the spring,” Patey wrote in an email to The Argus.

Phillips is not the first class dean that the Office of Academic Advancement has had to replace recently. In 2019, Dean Louise Brown retired after more than 20 years in the role. In the summer of 2021, Class Dean Tanesha Leathers left her job, right before the class of first-year students she was assigned to advise arrived on campus. Leathers was replaced by Class Dean Kelly Dunn. That same summer, Class Dean Michael Guerrero was hired to replace Class Dean Renee Johnson-Thornton, whose departure left the class of 2022 without a dean for eight months.

“We have had two class deans retire in the past 5 years and two other deans left to pursue wonderful opportunities,” Patey wrote. “While change is certainly hard, we feel as though we have a strong team in Academic Advancement and look forward to welcoming the new class dean to the team.”

Having worked with Phillips for 10 years, Patey expressed her appreciation for his work in the Office of Academic Advancement.

“[Phillips’] willingness to share his knowledge and his ability to teach and mentor, both colleagues and students alike, has been truly valued and appreciated,” Patey wrote. “We have all benefited from his wisdom and generous spirit and his deep concern and commitment to the students with whom he has worked. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work with David and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

WSA Senator Heather Cassell ’24 expressed a similar appreciation for Phillips, explaining that he helped Cassell return to school after medical leave, obtain medical accommodations, and request incompletes.

“[Phillips] understands his job is to help students navigate the institution, or navigate it for them, to make it easier for them to focus on being students,” WSA Senator Heather Cassell ’24 wrote in an email to The Argus. “I will miss him.”

Although Phillips has enjoyed his job, he is looking forward to retirement.

“I’ve developed very good relationships with many students and I will miss those students,” Phillips said. “I will miss many of my colleagues and the friendship and camaraderie. I like my job, but I’m not gonna miss it that much, if you know what I mean.”

There will be a retirement reception for Phillips on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 4 p.m. in the Daniel Family Commons. All Wesleyan community members, regardless of class year, can RSVP through a Google Form emailed to the class of 2024.

Rachel Wachman contributed to reporting and can be reached at rwachman@wesleyan.edu.

Elias Mansell can be reached at emansell@wesleyan.edu.

Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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