Nelson to step down Winter term

by Allyson Bennett | 12/4/07 3:20am

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Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson returns to his previous post as senior associate dean of the College in January, when Thomas Crady becomes dean.
by Sophie Novack / The Dartmouth

Nelson has served as acting dean since James Larimore left the College to fill a position at Swarthmore in July 2006.

Nelson's term as dean was distinguished in part by his handling of efforts to reform the College's undergraduate judicial system.

The Student Assembly in 2006 voted to form a task force on the Committee on Standards to recommend possible reforms of the judicial system.

Nelson decided to postpone action on the recommendations of the task force, citing in a past interview with The Dartmouth a desire not to overstep the role of an acting dean. When Nelson convened a new COS task force in October 2007, he told The Dartmouth that he believed a new review would be appropriate at that time, as opposed to the earlier review, because Crady would have assumed the position of dean before the committee completed its report.

Nelson was also involved in efforts to reform the College's Social Event Management Procedures, which establish the guidelines for organizations' alcohol use. The College instituted new SEMP guidelines at the beginning of Nelson's tenure as acting dean in September 2006. The changes were based on recommendations by a SEMP Review Committee headed by Larimore.

"The collection of policies and procedures for how student organizations manage alcohol ... have appropriately been in a state of evolution since they were created, and every couple of years on the basis of experience and feedback we have modified them, so I think the time had come to see if we could make any further improvements," Nelson said. "We're really not talking about abandoning the procedures we had and starting from scratch. It's really a matter of assessing what is working well and what could be done better or done differently."

The College announced that it would initiate a new review of SEMP procedures in October 2007.

A number of new members of the administration have also been hired during Nelson's time as acting dean, including a new dean for upper class students, a new director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, and a new assistant dean of residential life.

Acting Senior Associate Dean of the College Katherine Burke, who has worked with Nelson for 20 years, said that Nelson sought to foster campus dialogue about community values. She cited the August 2007 incident between Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and Theta Delta Chi fraternity, in which members of Kappa alleged that members of Theta Delt had made misogynistic comments, as evidence of the importance of Nelson's attempts to facilitate such communication.

Burke said that Nelson's desire to facilitate communication was demonstrated during Nelson's first fall as acting dean when he addressed concerns over possible discrimination against Native American students at the College.

Nelson highlighted this controversy as one of the greatest challenges he faced during his tenure.

"I think one of Dartmouth's most long-standing and important values and traditions is the value and tradition of members of the community in general, but Dartmouth students in particular, caring for and respecting one another." Nelson said. "I think some of my most rewarding times acting as the dean have been when students in the community have lived up to that great tradition and value and some of the most challenging times are when we failed to do that."

In addition to her praise of Nelson's support of cross-campus dialogue, Burke lauded Nelson for his ability to maintain the focus of the division after Larimore's departure.

"I think in a transitional period like this there is always the possibility that people will go into a holding pattern and won't be able to continue to do the work that they're here to do," Burke said. "I think that, because Dan knows the division so well and works so well with his colleagues across the division, he's been able to keep things moving forward."

Nelson said in an interview with The Dartmouth that during his tenure he strove to fulfill the objectives of the office of the dean of the College, which includes supporting the academic mission of Dartmouth and fostering a diverse community, without going beyond his authority as an acting dean.

"I certainly wasn't going to embark the division on any major new initiatives or changes of directions because that would not be appropriate with the search in progress for the new dean, but at the same time, it was important not to tread water," Nelson said.

This is Nelson's second time serving as acting dean. He also filled the position from 1998 to 1999, and has worked in the dean's office since 1987.

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