Last spring, Roberto Ifill was moved from his position as an economics professor in Kent Hall to become the Dean of Students for St. Mary’s College.
He was originally brought in to replace Laura Bayless, who stepped down from the position too suddenly for a replacement to be hired in time for the fall semester. The plan was, essentially, for Dean Ifill to hold down the fort while the College administration searched for a permanent replacement.
However, when the fall came, the administration found itself incredibly busy and preoccupied with all sorts of issues ranging from the open housing initiative to the opening phase of the school’s 15 year master plan. On top of this, Ifill proved during the summer and early fall that he was effective and happy enough in his new position so that a permanent dean was not immediately needed.
Now, fully half a year later, Ifill is moving and thinking beyond his original position as a substitute and has begun pursuing and expanding upon his own agenda. In an interview, he listed his main focus as “promoting a healthy campus culture.” That is, he would like to see continuing increases of student participation in the College community and a strengthening of the College’s ideals within the community itself.
He has set some smaller goals that will feed into this promotion. He wants to promote not only multicultural growth but also an increase in the use and appreciation of multiculturalism as it relates to the liberal arts experience at St. Mary’s. He would also like to see, as he described, a softening of the minds on campus. At length, he feels that the liberal arts demand that we be open to the differences of others. Though this openness certainly applies to respecting tangible differences such as ethnicity, religion, and heritage, he also feels that we must be more accepting of our less tangible differences such as those of emotions, ideologies, and opinions.
Through the past several months, Ifill says that he has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of enjoyment and support he has received from his position as Dean of Students. This position has put him in much greater day to day contact with the concerns and desires of students than he experienced as a professor. President Urgo agrees and said that he feels Dean Ifill has “connected quite will with students.”
“Everyone I spoke to is very please about [Ifill’s second year],” Urgo said. “There’s lots of enthusiasm for his leadership…He brings a wealth of experience from a number of other institutions that are like ours. He brings perspectives and experiences that he’s going to want to try out here. I enjoy working with him personally; I think he’s a strong advocate for the students, as well as, I think, a very positive role model for how one approaches a community like this.”
Referencing his professorship, which he also hopes to make a partial return to next semester, Ifill said: “I knew that I enjoyed teaching college students, but I had no idea how much I could enjoy working with them.” Urgo also said that the only negative opinions he’s heard voiced are that economics students are missing his classes, though he will be teaching a course on economics in higher education in the spring.
In recent weeks, Ifill has been addressing issues and concerns surrounding the Student Government Association’s (SGA) move to publicly support Question 6 and the DREAM Act. Disregarding his personal feelings on the subject, Ifill considers the student response and interaction with the SGA to represent a “shining example” of democratic principles simply because of the openness and ongoing nature of the debate. He applauded students on all sides of the issue for their commitment to their ideals and their respect for the democratic process.
Though he is still committed to the “interim” portion of his title, Ifill is happy to be returning next year. In addition to being glad that he has more time to work with the position, he believes that this extension is in the best interest of students as his continuation will give the administration much needed time to conduct a thorough and effectual search and selection for a permanent Dean. In the meantime, Ifill will continue to occupy the position of Interim Dean of Students from his office in the campus center. He had no comment on the question of a possible third year.