Wave of administrative turnover comes to Macalester


Shosuke Noma

Photo by Shosuke Noma ’23

Estelle Timar-Wilcox and Tamur Asar

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Macalester is seeing a new stream of staff and administrative turnover. During the last academic year, a wave of long-standing administrators left Macalester for new career opportunities or for retirement. In their wake are old jobs with new vacancies, and newer interim workers in revamped positions.

Multiple vice presidents, deans and several directors of varying offices have left in the last two semesters. Just this Wednesday, the college announced another upcoming departure, with Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship Donna Maeda retiring after this year’s International Roundtable. This was less than two weeks after Title IX Coordinator and Nondiscrimination Officer Regina Curran announced her upcoming departure. 

This level of transition is unusual but not unprecedented. Andrew Wells, Macalester’s interim associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, recalls a similar wave of vacancies in the 2015-16 academic year, when several people from student affairs, a vice president and the dean of students left. 

“It’s not extraordinary, [but] it’s not super common,” Wells said. “We’re not doing these types of searches in leadership roles every year.” 

Student affairs is emblematic of the high turnover that’s been happening over the last year at the college. Former Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee left last spring; Demethra Bradley took over the position as Acting Vice President for Student Affairs. Bradley left the college in August, and Wells took up the position on an interim basis. This makes Wells the third director of student affairs since the spring. 

The directors and interim directors are staffing an office in transition, too — student affairs is currently shifting its structure. Starting this fall, student affairs now reports to the provost instead of the president and includes the newly created Center for Campus Life. 

Wells’ permanent title is dean of campus life, in addition to his interim role as vice president of student affairs. He says these changes align with new Provost Lisa Anderson-Levy’s priorities. 

“I think with Dr. Anderson-Levy, that this is actually a really positive change for us,” Wells said. “Dr. Anderson-Levy has demonstrated a strong commitment to students’ needs, student health and wellness and student interests, and I think she’s going to be a fantastic partner and leader for us as we think about how student affairs can partner with the faculty in improving the student experience.”

As part of those changes, the college created a new Center for Campus Life office, which includes Residential Life. That department has also seen some staff turnover amid the restructuring, with former director Coco Du leaving and Marian Aden taking her place as the interim director. 

Aden has experienced multiple transitions since coming to Macalester in 2013. She summarized the current influx of interim staff and administration as not unique in nature but rather in setting: The pandemic creates an unusual background. 

“This isn’t something unique to Macalester but is a national trend,” Aden wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “All sectors across the country including higher education are experiencing higher than normal transitions.” 

The shift at Macalester reflects a movement across the U.S. job market — amid low wages and pandemic-induced changes to workplaces, more people are leaving their jobs.

Aden believes that the context of the pandemic affects Macalester’s wave of staff turnover.

“The pandemic has put a lot into perspective for staff across the country and they are making employment decisions accordingly,” Aden wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. 

Many recent studies support Aden’s hypothesis that nationwide waves of job transitions are affecting higher education faculty and administrative roles. The Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed 60 higher education professionals in the summer of 2021 and found that more were looking for an improved work-life balance, or for jobs that increased their flexibility to work from home. 

Not all of Macalester’s changes can be chalked up to the pandemic, though; a few administrators made plans to vacate their positions before COVID-19 began. Former Provost Karine Moe’s second three-year term ended last spring; former Assistant Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton planned to stay for President Suzanne Rivera’s first year and then retire. 

Most of the other departing staff and administrators took new job offers. At least two — Curran and Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee — returned to universities where they worked previously, citing returning to homes and familiar places as reasons to leave Macalester.

Aden assures that student life will feel the same amidst the many staffing changes, at least in residential life and student affairs. 

“Any good staffing model includes succession planning, whether it be an interim or permanent appointment, so student experience is not compromised and the mission remains the same during moments of transition,” Aden wrote.