O’Shea looks back on first year as college president
President Donal O’Shea summed up his first year at New College in one word, “Wonderful.” Citing the Bacon Towne Meeting and watching the sunset out of his office window as two of his most memorable moments of the year, O’Shea is looking forward to the upcoming commencement ceremony, which will mark the end of his first full year as New College’s fifth president.
“I love the place,” O’Shea said. “And I love the students. I thought I would never love students as much as I love my Holyoke students, but the New College students are great – they are fantastic.”
Alongside the many good aspects the 2012-2013 term has offered, this past school year has had its share of challenges, including the death of a student and the resignation of many crucial staff members. Those departures include former Dean of Students Wendy Bashant, Director of Facilities Management and Construction Bob Mason, Director of Communications and Marketing Jake Hartvigsen and Associate Provost Raymonda “Ray” Burgman.
“There have been a lot of departures on staff and I hope it’s not me,” O’Shea joked. “I’m running people out!” He and his team have hired additional faculty and staff, including a new executive director for the New College Foundation, Shannon Duvall who O’Shea believes will greatly increase revenue for the college.
“Any time somebody leaves is an opportunity,” he said. “I keep telling myself that as I am looking to try and restore some order,”
The sudden resignation of former Dean of Students Wendy Bashant has lead to one of these opportunities – a reinvestment in Student Services. O’Shea believes that Bashant’s departure has highlighted the “artificial divide” between the academic side of campus and the student side. The resignation of Dr. Burgman has also given O’Shea and his team the time to refocus the job of Associate Provost into a position more geared towards academic advising.
“It would be really good to improve academic advising and make sure that the student experience is more uniform … because New College is a tough place if you don’t have a good, easy relationship with your advisor,” O’Shea said. “So we should probably get someone in there that is really looking at advising overall and making sure that students have a team of advisors instead of [having] everything depend on your single advisor.”
Concerning the death of Taizo Pocsy, O’Shea stated that it was one of the biggest struggles he has had to endure this term.
“The death of a student is always awful,” he said. “It’s always hardest on those who are left behind. It’s hard on the students, it’s hard on the faculty and, of course, it’s hardest on their family. And I think that that put a damper on a lot of things. There’s no question, that was a challenge.”
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, O’Shea has been able to keep his head above water by implementing new programs and policies to help the campus become a better place to thrive in. These programs involve strides in grounds keeping, marketing and communications, academics and student retention.
“Academically this place is great, and we have made some strides on retention,” O’Shea added. “We’ll always lose some students because we’re tiny and we can’t offer everything but you don’t want to be losing people because they don’t feel welcome – that just shouldn’t happen.”
Though O’Shea feels that he has accomplished all that he wanted to in his first year, he already has many plans for next term. Due to the small cushion New College has in the budget, O’Shea is optimistic for next term’s prospects, which include possible collaborations between the other colleges in the area.
“I like the idea of closer collaboration with the other schools in the area, because it would create more opportunities for our students,” O’Shea said. “So we’re meeting together with the presidents of Ringling and USF Sarasota-Manatee and Eckerd and State College in early June to see if there are things we could cooperate on.”
Along with these schools, O’Shea hopes to be able to set up a program with the Asolo Theater and the Ringling Museum.
“It would be great if we could have some joint programs and some students could take courses,” he said. “There would be a lot more options for students.”
O’Shea is also in the process of finalizing a partnership with the Daughters for Life foundation, which would bring ten female-bodied students from the Middle East to study at New College.
“It would be great to have more international students,” he said. “It would at least diversify us internationally more, but we still have some challenges in diversity overall on campus.”
Additionally, though he does not have any specific plans in the works, O’Shea wants to find a way to renovate the Pei dorms and make some improvements to food services on campus in the next few years.
Overall, O’Shea, who lists traveling, college functions and math as activities he likes to engage in outside of the office, believes that his first year as president has gone considerable well.
“It’s hard to tell because no one tells you anything, they are nice to you so it could be awful and you don’t know it,” he said. “But on the whole it seems good.”