The Dean search: A student’s guide

By Dale Shoemaker / News Desk

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A group of eight faculty, staff and students — all a part of a search committee — will make its recommendation to Pitt’s Provost Patricia Beeson and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher sometime today for who the next vice provost and dean of students should be.

Last week, four candidates interviewed for the job. The search committee is considering Kenyon Bonner, the interim dean of students and former associate dean of students at Pitt; Joanne Vogel, associate vice president and dean of student life at Southern Methodist University; William Stackman, associate vice president for student services at the University of Notre Dame; and Cara Appel-Silbaugh, associate dean of students at Georgia Institute of Technology, for the position.

At each public interview, the candidates spoke about their ideas for the university and why they consider themselves the most qualified applicant.

The dean of students job at Pitt has been open since last January when Gallagher promoted then-Dean Kathy Humphrey to vice chancellor and chief of staff. Kenyon Bonner, who was formerly the associate dean of students, has filled the position in the interim.

The committee, which convened in the fall, formally opened its search Oct. 1, when it posted the first advertisement for the position online. Last Tuesday through Friday, the Student Affairs staff met with each candidate and hosted public interviews to involve the community in the discussion.

At Pitt, the dean of students oversees many departments within the Division of Student Affairs, including the Offices of Student Life and Residence Life, the University Counseling Center and Student Health Service. The nature of the position requires the administrator to build a direct relationship with Pitt’s student body.

To jump-start that relationship, The Pitt News has compiled highlights from each interview. Here is what you need to know about the four candidates:

Kenyon Bonner

Dale Shoemaker | News Editor

Dale Shoemaker | News Editor

Current job: Interim vice provost and dean of students

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy from Washington and Jefferson College and Master of Education degree in rehabilitation counseling from Kent State University

Of all four candidates, Bonner has the most experience working with Pitt students, as he’s held the job for the past year, and has worked at the University since 2004. During his interview on Tuesday, Bonner said he wants to fight sexual violence on campus, make Pitt more diverse and inclusive and improve the Outside the Classroom Curriculum program to make it easier to use and make students more aware of its benefits.

In 2004, Pitt hired Bonner as the associate director of Residence Life. He then served as director of student life for 11 years and while he held that position, served for seven years as associate dean of students. Currently, he is serving as interim vice provost and dean of students.

Bonner is the only candidate without a doctorate degree. Though the job listing for the position does not mention whether a doctorate degree is required, Bonner, if chosen, will be Pitt’s first dean of students in recent history to not have one.

Joanne Vogel

Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Current job: Associate vice president and dean of student life at Southern Methodist University

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Duke University, master’s degree in mental health counseling from Stetson University and doctorate in counselor education and supervision from the University of Central Florida.

Coming from the south, Vogel said she would bring her extensive training in mental health counseling north to Pitt.

In her interview on Wednesday, Vogel said student health — including mental, sexual and financial wellness — is her top priority. Vogel said she would work to improve victim advocacy at Pitt for students who are victims of sexual and physical violence.

While Vogel and Bonner addressed the high cost of tuition in their interviews, the other two candidates did not. Vogel, like Bonner, said the dean of students should work to make sure students feel like their college experience is “worth” the price tag.

William Stackman

Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

Current job: Associate vice president for student services at University of Notre Dame

Education: Bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation from the University of Kentucky, master’s degree in higher education administration from West Virginia University, master’s degree in parks and recreation administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia and doctorate in leadership, administration and policy studies from Boston University.

If hired as vice provost and dean of students, Stackman said he would focus on mental health, academic integration and diversity and inclusion issues on campus.

In his interview on Thursday, Stackman said paying attention to the needs of people from different backgrounds, like international students, is important when addressing issues like mental health and sexual violence.

Stackman is the most educated and most experienced candidate, holding three graduate degrees and having worked in student affairs roles for 30 years.

Cara Appel-Silbaugh

Dale Shoemaker | News Editor

Dale Shoemaker | News Editor

Current job: Associate dean of students at Georgia Institute of Technology

Education: Bachelor’s degree in film studies from Pitt, master’s degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University and doctorate in college student counseling and personal services from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Like Bonner, Appel-Silbaugh’s Pitt ties run deep, having earned her bachelor’s degree at Pitt. If chosen as dean, Appel-Silbaugh said she would focus on building a relationship with Pitt faculty, staff and students.

Appel-Silbaugh also said she would prioritize student wellness and look into creating specialized centers for students on campus — including an LGBTQ+ center, a multicultural center and a women’s center.

She would also work with international students to help them feel more at home in Pittsburgh, she said. She would like to organize a two- or three-day fair that would include banks to get students set up with debit cards and cell phone providers, if the student needs a phone or information about communication. She would also look into providing bus tours around the city so international students can get used to campus and the city.

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