Dean of Students in the College John “Jay” Ellison discussed issues ranging from the accessibility of academic advisers, to last quarter’s Facebook offenses, to the value of a liberal arts education at a Student Government (SG) forum on Thursday.
Ellison came to the University in July, transitioning from his former position as Associate Dean and professor at Harvard University. The Dean of Students in the College is responsible for academic affairs in the College, including matters of career advising, curriculum, and discipline. He also directly oversees the academic advisers.
Originally from Georgia, Ellison worked as a police officer for four years before moving to Florida for his undergraduate degree. He moved again to Massachusetts to get his Ph.D at Harvard, where his work involved research in Syria for a year. He is well versed in ancient Middle Eastern languages, and knows over 15 ancient languages and dialects.
Ellison said his main focus is improving the accessibility of academic advisers and strengthening the relationship between students and their advisers. “Our advisers used to each have up to 270 students to attend to, and that is too many for the students to be getting the individual attention they should be getting,” Ellison said. He explained how he is expanding the number of advisers and introducing initiatives to promote more interaction between students and advisers, such as giving the latter Maroon Dollars to encourage coffee outings.
In light of the federal investigation into the University's potential breach of Title IX, Ellison addressed student concerns about how the University deals with sexual assault cases. “My vision is that everybody, regardless of particulars […], has equal access to every program we have,” he said, adding that the University is working on a more centralized system run by trained professionals to deal with all matters of discipline equally.
In addition, he noted that calls made to the Sexual Assault Dean-On-Call (SADOC) are now confidential, when they previously were not. “This is a huge step for us as an institution, when this availability of confidentiality is still lacking in many institutions,” Ellison said.
Ellison also emphasized the value of a liberal arts education.
“We value the fact that someone can come into the College wanting to study economics and leave the University with a degree in art history because they’ve been exposed to a new area of study that they love,” he said. He added that although he thinks national conversations about success often center on high-paying jobs on Wall Street, these are not the only satisfying careers.
“Very few people do the same job forever,” he said. “We want students to value their college experience and do things they’re passionate about and want to do. We as an institution will give you options like pre-professional programs, but we’re going to make you read some good books along the way too.”