Three high-level administrators announce upcoming departures

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Weyerhaueser Hall. Photo by Celia Johnson ’22.

Ian Witry and Hannah Catlin

With a new college president, the COVID-19 pandemic and a deepened commitment to racial justice, 2020 brought sweeping changes to Macalester’s administration and outlook. Then, at the end of the fall 2020 semester, the changes continued when three senior staff announced their resignations within weeks of each other. The departures, and a recent decision to add a new dean of faculty position, means the college has four major roles to fill in the coming months.

Assistant Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Karine Moe and Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee will all vacate their seats at the end of the spring 2021 semester. 

Leaving behind a total 31 years of service to Macalester, these administrators’ departures represent a major turning point in Macalester’s administration. Just one year into President Suzanne Rivera’s administration, new leadership will occupy some of the college’s most senior staff positions.

“VP Wheaton, VP Lee and Provost Moe all bring a wealth of wisdom, institutional knowledge, and deep love for Mac to their work, and they’ve all contributed significantly to the college’s current position of strength,” Rivera wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “I will miss them terribly.

“At the same time, these vacancies create opportunities for others to grow into leadership and will bring new perspectives to the senior leadership table,” she continued. “That can be very positive for the whole community.”

The college announced Moe’s departure first, in early October. She had been planning for some time to step down after completing her second three-year term as provost. Moe will take a year-long sabbatical and return in fall 2022 as an economics professor.

The search committee to find her replacement is already well underway, headed by music professor Victoria Malawey. And on Friday, Jan. 27, the college announced it would be splitting the provost and dean of faculty roles. The dean of faculty will be appointed by the new provost. 

According to history professor Ernesto Capello, professors have by and large responded positively to this change. He described the positions as “two full-time jobs” that may be difficult for one person to carry out simultaneously. 

Plus, the new position could make the chain of command smoother, with the provost focusing more on college-wide strategic planning and the dean focusing on liaising with professors.

“There’s something attractive about the idea of having an intermediate person between us as a faculty and the senior staff,” Capello said. “[Someone] who is there to both support and advocate for the faculty and also to, if necessary, discipline faculty without having to raise it to a college-wide, senior staff level.”

While the college works to fill her roles, Moe’s eyes are on the days just ahead: three ongoing faculty searches and keeping “the Macalester ship not just afloat, but afloat and thriving.”

About two months after Moe’s announcement, Rivera announced Lee’s imminent return to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. to serve as its vice president for student affairs. Lee began her career at Rollins, where she worked for 13 years.

“This move is like a homecoming for me: a return to my first institution, a return to the east coast, a return to a place that is closer to family,” she wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

Lee said she’s leaving Macalester with mixed emotions. 

“I believe in the notion that there is a season for everything and everybody,” she wrote. “My season at Macalester has metamorphosed, and I have come to know that the work for which I was purposed to do at Mac is coming to its end.”

Just weeks later, in a Dec. 21 Mac Daily memo, Rivera announced that Wheaton, one of the college’s longest serving staff members, will retire at the end of this academic year. He will have spent 19 years at Macalester. 

Wheaton began discussing his retirement with the college about a month after former president Brian Rosenberg announced that the 2019-2020 academic year would be his last at Macalester. Wheaton planned to stay at Macalester at least through Rivera’s first year, at which point he would be 67, a target age for his retirement. 

“I spent some time during the fall [of 2020] talking with [my] family about what exact schedule we ought to use, and we decided that this was the right time,” he said. “This has been in the works for a while.”

Wheaton reflected on some of his accomplishments, including maintaining a balanced budget, weathering the 2008 financial crisis and following through with some infrastructural plans made prior to his time at Macalester — building the Leonard Center and renovating Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center. 

“I’ve been working for 45 years, and this is my fifth employer, and this is easily the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “Leaving the college is hugely bittersweet.” 

Rivera wrote that after his retirement, Wheaton plans to “continue his passion for photography, travel with his wife Michele Moylan, and look for opportunities to make his decades of non-profit finance experience useful to other organizations.”

The path Macalester takes next will be a wholly new one. Rivera’s goal is to advance the college’s pursuit of its core values: equity, service, justice and excellence. She wants to bring on staff who will continue to advance her “deep sense of devotion to a shared vision.”

I believe we will find new leaders who have these qualities and who also can broaden the lived experiences and perspectives at the table,” Rivera wrote. 

“I understand that change can be hard,” she continued. “And that we are all holding a lot of feelings right now about everything that seems uncertain. But I have great faith in this community and its ability to both weather changes and come out on the other side stronger.”

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