Q&A with interim Dean of the College Scott Brown
Brown discussed his vision for navigating his time as interim Dean of the College, including prioritizing student wellbeing and communication with students.
Scott Brown was named interim Dean on August 18 and will remain until the College finds a permanent replacement.
Interim Dean of the College Scott Brown has returned to the College after many years of administrative work at other colleges and universities — before occupying positions at Colgate University, the College of Wooster and Northern Arizona University, he served as an area director in Dartmouth’s Office of Residential Life for three years in the early 1990s. Brown’s appointment as interim dean follows sociology professor Kathryn Lively’s sudden resignation from the role, which occurred on June 30 but was not announced until July 19. The Dartmouth sat down with Brown to discuss his goals for the position, new College initiatives and the beginning of the fall term.
You’re returning to Dartmouth after years of work at other colleges and universities. Which aspects of campus have changed since you left and which have remained the same? How will those similarities and differences inform your work during your tenure as interim Dean?
SB: It’s been my hope to have an opportunity to come back to Dartmouth. I started my career here almost 30 years ago. It’s an extraordinary place. I was really drawn to the campus and the students, faculty and staff that support them, and I was delighted to find that that spirit which defined the place was completely timeless. My ability to work with students and to think about giving you the most personal and powerful experience we possibly can remains the same, and working with a great staff to do that who’s incredibly talented and committed and very, very hardworking.
The campus has changed a lot since I’ve been here. I think the opportunities that are afforded to undergraduates has been just exponentially greater, and I think the resources to support those really powerful and transformative experiences has gotten bigger.
My father-in-law, chemistry professor David Lemal, has taught at Dartmouth for 50 years, and I was always struck by him and all his colleagues on the faculty — just incredible world-class scholars with a really deep commitment to undergraduate teaching, and undergraduates, period. That is something that’s been the same and I’m seeing that amplified in more contexts and more opportunities from all the different kinds of centers and students going off campus. But I was also really delighted to see that deep investment of the students in the life of the campus, and then being able to partner with them to make it the best it could possibly be. So the good stuff has been proliferating since I’ve been here, but the thing that I think makes this place special has remained, much to my delight.
You’re entering this position just after completing a job as interim Dean at Northern Arizona University, and you’ve also previously worked in an interim capacity at Colgate University. How do you approach an interim administrator role differently from a more permanent role, and how will that affect College policy over the next two years?
SB: My general approach, regardless of position, when I come into a new community is to be part anthropologist, part historian and part cartographer, to get to know the culture and the history and the terrain of a community. I think it’s incredibly important to really understand and respect the culture and the dynamics that are at play, and how that is an expression of the institution’s values. Then, really trying to get a sense of, what does the institution’s best self look like, and getting a shared vision of what that looks like with all the major stakeholders and understanding what's at stake for the individual stakeholders. Then, trying to align the work and supporting the staff in the division to be able to give students a great experience and continually move it forward based on that shared vision.
Whether I’ve been an interim dean and been asked to help support the staff, whether it’s to advance diversity, equity and inclusion work, whether it’s really thinking about, are we organized in ways that help do that work as best as possible — it’s really driven by the needs of the institution at that particular time. In that way, an interim is not very different from a permanent position, because I think there are the same important questions to be asked, for the community to ask itself. That gives guidance about what’s the best path forward.
Broadly speaking, what do you hope to accomplish while in the role of interim Dean over the next two years? Are there any specific issues on which you plan to focus?
SB: First and foremost is putting students at the center and doing everything possible to help preserve the best Dartmouth experience possible, while understanding that it’s going to be dynamic and trying to maintain the health and safety of the community. Those twin goals are going to be in play at all times. In the very short term we want to launch the term very well and make sure that folks have the support that they need. Also supporting the staff, who’ve been doing incredibly heroic work to help center the students and dealing with a larger context that changes daily. We have a very talented and committed and hardworking staff. For example, the whole First-Year Trips program has been a good example of trying to preserve the best parts of the Trips experience and working with the student leaders and using our best information about how we could best preserve that in ways that preserve safety.
I’m hopeful that, maybe on the other side of Delta variant of COVID-19, things stabilize in a way so that our student body can really enjoy a full, normal Dartmouth experience. I feel very, very bad that our students have had to weather so much because of this. People are working literally 18-hour days to find ways to preserve the student experience, knowing that things are happening that we just have to try to respond to and keep our due north very clear.
While we’re on the topic of safety, Dartmouth’s mental health infrastructure has become a controversial issue, especially over the course of the pandemic. How will you work to address the issues with Dartmouth's mental health support systems that students and The Dartmouth have reported?
SB: I think mental health and wellbeing is of paramount importance to the whole institution. There’s a lot of work that's being done in terms of providing additional staffing and creating an infrastructure to make sure that if any person has a concern, it’s going to a central place so that we can very quickly support them. It’s also leveraging the incredible relationships that are at Dartmouth and equipping the folks who have relationships with students that may not necessarily need clinical intervention, but could use support. Whether you’re in your house community or you’re an athlete or you’re in your student organization, we’re creating this community of care so that it’s an environment that is just generally supportive and we’re able to be nimble and responsive to meet the really significant needs some of our students may require.
Being a Dartmouth student is really difficult, period. It’s a very rigorous academic experience — students ask a lot of themselves, and we have very, very high-achieving students. The question we need to be thinking as a community is, what we do to put students in positions where they’re going to be most successful and where they’ve got that support to manage what is a very dynamic time, and then also making sure that we’re anticipating and supporting the various issues that might come up so that students can complete their Dartmouth experience successfully.
Over the past year and a half, many students have expressed frustration at how difficult it can be to get in touch with administrators. How will you facilitate communications between students and your office, and how will that communication affect your work as interim Dean?
SB: I think all students should feel that the surrounding community of faculty and staff are here to support the student experience, and as the Dean, I’ll do everything in my power to hardwire student input into decisions and processes. I will personally hold office hours and make myself available for students who would like to come see me. I’m very responsive to email. If anybody wants to spend time with me, I’ll prioritize those kinds of meetings to the best of my ability. I will also be a person who’s very visible — you’ll see me as the person with a baseball hat and a tie walking around campus, and I will invite people to come say hello. I will visit student organizations and activities. It’s important that students know who their Dean is, and that that’s a person who they feel they have a personal relationship with. I really encourage students to come by and visit, drop me a line and, if they see me on campus, to please introduce themselves, because they’ll see me a lot.
All students, faculty and staff are subject to a set of on-campus COVID-19 guidelines that will be reexamined the week of Sept. 20. While examining those guidelines, how will the administration balance overall impact to student wellness with the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
SB: I think the most Dartmouth thing to do is to really think about what we can do to preserve the best experience we can, but also be mindful and thoughtful for my community members — my classmates, my roommates — about health and safety. We hope that this is temporary, and we are harnessing our full power to manage those twin goals of preserving as normal as much as we can, but knowing that we’ve been guided by the science and our local governments and what’s the data on the ground, and hopefully when we re-examine we are in a position that maybe we’re able to get closer to the more normal side.
Is there anything that you would like to say to students as we begin the fall term?
SB: We are so happy you’re here. We are so hopeful that we can give you the best Dartmouth experience possible and feel terrible that you’ve had to manage such a difficult college experience, and we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe and so you have the best experience you possibly can. Every single person here — and I mean, every single person — has been doggedly committed to that, because they put the students at the center of all of our work. I feel very fortunate to work with such an incredibly, explicitly committed community to students, and working with students, it’s really special. I’m so excited to be back, to be a part of it, and I hope I get to meet everybody.