Randy Harrell was out of the business. He and his wife bought an RV and were making their way across the United States with their cat and dog. They went through 19 states in the eight-month stretch of his retirement, until he got a call. He was wanted for one last job; he was wanted to be the interim dean of student affairs.
“I went online, I looked at New College,” Harrell, as he sat in his mostly-empty office in HCL 1, said. “And I thought, ‘This looks like an incredibly interesting place.’”
Harrell grew up in ‘60s California and New College harkened him back to those days-gone-by. On Oct. 30, he came to campus, taking on the interim position as the administration began to search for a permanent hire. Ten days into his term, Harrell already felt at home at the campus, even as he still learned its intricacies.
“I was talking to my younger son,” Harrell said. “And I was telling him about the place. And he said, ‘Dad, you’re really happy, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Jordan, I’m really happy. I’m really happy to be here.’”
Harrell brings nearly four decades of experience with higher education to New College. At California State University Fullerton, a commuter university that grew from 18,000 to over 26,000 in during his six years there, he worked with traditional student and adult students. In 1987, he moved to California State University San Bernardino. The student population was 7,000 students, which grew to 14,000 while Harrell was there. Despite the size difference, there were some similarities between San Bernardino and New College. The university focused on teaching rather than research and had residence halls, neither of which could be said of Fullerton.
In 2000, Harrell took the position of Vice President of Student Affairs at Chowan University in North Carolina, where he stayed for the next 19 years. Chowan had just under 700 students when Harrell arrived, which fell further to just above 500 students before growing up to 1,500 over the following decades. Harrell performed much the same duties there as he will be at New College: both are primarily residential with “very seasoned” residence halls. Harrell oversaw the construction of a new community for the residents at Chowan, which will allow him to give advice on New College’s own plans for growth. Chowan is a Christian college, though Harrell did not feel that there was much of a culture shock going from there to New College.
“Chowan is a church-related college,” Harrell said. “But it is not what I would consider doctrinaire. It did not impose any belief systems; we had students from all beliefs and no beliefs. We had students from all lifestyles, from all life orientations.”
But one lifestyle imposition Chowan placed on its students was a dry campus. Lest students at New College fear that they will be wrenched from their comfortable crapulence, Harrell was clear that he did not consider that a wise policy.
“When a campus is dry, it imposes strictures on the student culture that are unrealistic,” Harrell said. “The choice to drink becomes a counter-culture choice, and there is more negative drinking in an environment like that. Here, students 21 and over can sit down and have a beer together without being surreptitious about it.”
Harrell is responsible for residence life, counseling, wellness, and student success models on campus. He is looking to be a primary advocate for student concerns outside the classroom during his term here and is looking forward to getting to know the students while he is here. Though, Harrell is unsure of how all that will translate into the actual day-to-day tasks he will be practicing.
“I’m still figuring things out,” Harrell said. “I’m only ten days into this gig!”