Dr. Peter Phaiah, Assistant Vice President of Student University Relations (AVPSUR), Title IX Coordinator, and SGA Advisor, has been appointed to be the Dean of Students. Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming, the previous Dean of Students, now is the Vice President of Student and University Relations (VPSUR) only rather than holding both positions.
Some deem this appointment logical but others have raised concerns. Still others did not even realize that the change had been made. This article aims to explain the situation and concerns, and to suggest actions for future improvement.
Dr. Phaiah has been at Tech since November 2017, when he was hired as AVPSUR and Title IX Coordinator to promote student success and ensure compliance with Title IX. As SGA Advisor, he acts as liaison between the administration and SGA. And as Dean of Students, his role is that of student advocate. These roles are linked by the need for understanding of the student body and a commitment to fairness, but are still distinct positions.
One student, Augusta Edwards, voiced her concerns in a letter to administration. She worried that that there might be conflicts of interest between the positions, such as if a student is involved in a Title IX investigation. In that case, she wondered, would Dr. Phaiah act as Dean or Coordinator? Jose Martinez-Claros, a Tech Ph.D. student who has worked with Dr. Phaiah on several occasions, believes there is no conflict and that “both jobs complement each other.” He explained, “Title IX cases ... are discussed by a Title IX committee, composed of faculty, staff, students and administration.” And while Dr. Phaiah is in charge of ensuring procedures and guidelines are followed, policy is determined by input from a range of sources. So there are limits on Dr. Phaiah’s power, and alternate avenues for resolving any conflicts that might arise.
Additionally, Dr. Phaiah is not the only administrator students can go to for help. Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming, previous Dean of Students, emphasized that she is “still an advocate for students” despite having handed over her official title.
However, questions remain about the lack of transparency in this appointment process. First, the appointment was quietly announced at the end of an email blast to students also discussing the Student Support Services Satisfaction (4S) Survey, which was not sent to either faculty or staff. This led to many people at Tech, including the SGA President and CFO, not even realizing what had happened. This is not the first time such communication breakdown has happened at Tech, which is an issue that should continue to be addressed.
Also, no input on the appointment was sought from either the student body, the SGA, faculty, or staff. This is concerning because Title IX can impact anyone on campus, and Dean of Students is important for many aspects of student activities. Although perhaps not standard process for all administrative positions, seeking feedback from the community with so much at stake is something Tech should strongly consider.
Ultimately, Dr. Phaiah is our new Dean of Students. He has a great deal of experience, but has been at Tech a shorter time than most students. Now he has the opportunity to prove himself worthy of the title here at Tech, and to earn student trust.