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First of four candidates for new dean opening, Douglas Eck, participates in open forum

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

Chrissy Ewald

Staff writer

Willamette University is hiring a new Dean of Students for Community Care and Inclusion. The new position is replacing the former Dean of Students position most recently held by Domanic Thomas, who vacated the position in Fall 2019. As part of the interview process, the four finalists for the position are each individually attending an open [forum] on Wednesday, March 10, Friday, March 12, Tuesday, March 16 and Thursday, March 18. These forums are open to faculty, staff and students, including those from PNCA and other Willamette-affiliated colleges.

A profile photo of Douglas Eck for the University of Houston.

The Dean for CCI position is part of the Student Affairs department. Responsibilities [include] working across a broad array of departments within administration and student services to develop an inclusive and caring campus environment that supports all students. The Dean for CCI is also responsible for overseeing student conduct and conflict resolution, working as deputy Title IX coordinator, working with the student CARE team and emergency on-call protocols. The title now includes “for Community Care and Inclusion” to reflect that the role is that of a “senior administrative leader who can focus on student equity issues across all of our schools,” ] Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Landreman said in an email.

The first finalist, Douglas Eck, Ed.D., participated in an open forum on Wednesday, March 10. Eck currently works as Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Houston (UH), a large public university with an undergraduate population of over 38,000 students. Eck said he is interested in Willamette because he “possess[es] more progressive views” than he thinks his current institution “is willing to embrace or enact, certainly at the speed in which we can effect change.” He said the Dean of CCI position here at Willamette is a place he can “engage some of those bold, creative ideas” about “student success in the year 2021.” He discussed his experience at UH, which is a designated [Hispanic-Serving Institution], and his frustration that finding the services designed to support the school’s Hispanic population could be hard. Eck completed a Doctor of Education degree focusing on the experiences of Student Affairs staff last year, which is another reason he is looking for a new position that enables greater professional growth. Eck expressed excitement about being able to “be the trailblazer” and “set the standard” for this new position.

During his work at Ohio State University as Residence Hall Director and Housing Coordinator, Eck was asked to join one of the university’s Black Student Unions as a faculty advisor. He discussed the importance of establishing rapport and trust and building relationships with the communities present within a university. As Associate Director of Residence Life at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, Eck was part of the team that developed and implemented that college’s first gender-neutral housing. Eck said this proposal was at first met with skepticism, but the team worked to educate and answer questions from the community that led to buy-in and implementation. The program was successful, and still exists at Lake Forest College. “If students are allowed to live in an environment that removes stress, barriers, stigmas- think about how much more focus and energy they can give to the other aspects of their academic career,” Eck said. At UH, Eck facilitated a study of racial bias in the student conduct process that reflected the disproportionate disciplining of Black students compared to white students well-known to exist in K-12 education. Eck emphasised the importance of using data to facilitate strategic planning across the university, including “getting our police department on board,” to address that racial bias. Eck said his experience at UH has prepared him to coordinate Student Affairs across multiple schools and between physically distant campuses.

Emily Drew, associate professor of sociology and ethnic studies at Willamette, asked Eck how he would handle competing pressures from either side of the political spectrum, including recent activity from right-wing militias. Eck noted that although he feels safe walking around places like Salem because of various privileges that protect him, he said it was important for him to understand where and why students and community members feel unsafe. “If this is something actionable by Willamette, then that’s my responsibility. I need to be driving that conversation or policy change, or that education or training. If this is something that’s happening across the street, at the statehouse or downtown Salem, that’s where we need to start talking about partnerships with the local community,” said Eck. He noted the importance of being up-front and honest with students rather than trying to hide some of the negative aspects of the Willamette experience.

ASWU President Claire Mathews-Lingen asked Eck how he would support new and ongoing student efforts, both specifically in equity, diversity and inclusion and in other programs and on-campus activism. Eck said he feels it is a listening process for learning what students are passionate about in this new environment. “I want to be invited into those spaces. I don’t believe that I should be marching in and saying ‘tell me what’s going on,’” Eck said. He also emphasized the importance of learning the history of various student efforts to avoid mistakes of the past and provide appropriate challenges and support to create sustainable, successful, and inclusive student experiences.

Willamette students, faculty and staff can attend the next forum interviews at the dates and Zoom links given [here]. Lisa Landreman said in an email that Willamette hopes to make an offer by the end of March.

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Dec 11, 2021

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