Photo by Maria Araujo
In an email sent out to Res Life administration on Monday, Dean Martin announced his resignation as director of Res Life, effective at the end of this semester.
Dec. 20 will be Martin’s last day in office before he leaves UNB to pursue a “wonderful opportunity” that Martin writes he “cannot pass on.”
Martin, who arrived at UNB in 2015, has departed in the wake of changes to the structure of the Res Life system, including the controversial removal of residence dons, announced to the UNB community in February 2017.
Both the Student Union and many in the residence community were opposed to the new system, which has replaced live-in dons with three full-time Residence Life Coordinators (RLCs).
Lead proctors have been assigned in each building to facilitate communication between the house and their respective RLC—each of whom live in-residence.
According to a report released by Martin in June 2017, the rationale for this systemic change was that as part-time staff, the dons did not have the capacity to dedicate themselves full-time to the residence community.
Martin said that the family-knit nature the don system created—although beneficial in some ways—could create a “closed community” that prevented transparency and coherent communication.
Dons and proctors were initially concerned about the changes
Statements released last year from the UNBSU and residence dons outlined perceived issues with consultation about the new system, with both groups questioning why the change was being implemented so quickly and without providing evidence for the new system’s merits.
These concerns were brought up in a joint board/senate residence committee meeting last spring. The committee met with Martin and Mark Walma, assistant vice-president student services, but Martin and Walma failed to convince the committee that anecdotal evidence was sufficient to justify the implementation of such radical changes.
As a result, the committee passed a motion that would delay the proposed Res Life restructuring plan “until a comprehensive staff report outlining the rationale for the change has been produced to the satisfaction of the Joint Board/Senate Residence Committee.”
This motion was dismissed by the Board of Governors after Martin and Walma presented their plans for restructure to the BoG, paving the way for the Res Life changes to be made effective starting September 2017.
UNB law professor Nicole O’Byrne said she still believes the removal of the dons will fail to enhance the student experience, citing less supervision and increased responsibility for proctors as issues that were unanswerable by Walma and Martin.
“I am still disappointed by the lack of consultation that went into the decision, the lack of evidence and planning, and the lack of due process,” said O’Byrne.
“The decision was made by the administration long before it was brought to the Senate/Board committee for our input.”
Res Life restructure shows early positive results
A committee-recommended review is to be conducted two years after the implemented changes in order to assess the ability of the coordinator model to support residence students and find potential gaps in the system.
“With Martin leaving, my hope is that this review and report do not get lost in the transition shuffle. It would be a great disservice to the UNB Community,” said Serena Smith, a former don who explained that the review was recommended to ensure that the new residence model was the best one to move forward with.
But according to Jackie Toner, lead proctor of Neill House, the change has been seeing positive results.
“Despite concerns expressed last year that the change to this new system would be a disservice to proctors, especially those who would have extra responsibilities as lead proctors,” Toner said that she’s loved the change.
“Being a proctor in the old system, I found it hard to know what was going on and feedback was hard to receive in regards to conduct issues. Now all of our communication is direct and we can get the support we need when we need it,” said Toner.
“There was certainly some growing pains. Change is hard but this change was certainly the right choice for UNB in the end. A lot of us returning to the role were nervous on how everything was going to pan out but in the end we are still one big family.”
Toner said she was sad to see Martin go as she believed he moved Res Life in a positive direction during his time here.
“He always has been a big supporter for proctors through the restructuring process and whenever we had questions or concerns he had an answer for us quickly. I hope all the best for him in his new role,” said Toner.
Former associate vice-president academic (learning environment) to take over
According to O’Byrne it isn’t uncommon for variability in university administrator positions, saying, “They have few (or no) obligations to students.”
UNBSU president Herbert Bempah expressed well wishes to Martin in an emailed statement. “We expect that his successor and colleagues at student services will continue to assess the restructuring of the new model and review it properly in spite of Dean Martin’s premature departure,” Bempah said.
People curious about Martin’s replacement will have to wait, according to vice-president academic George MacLean, who said, “It is a little early to talk about the process of finding a new director.”
“Dean will be here until the end of the term, after which the assistant vice-president of student services will oversee the portfolio.”
With Walma, the assistant vice-president student services, out on sick leave, former assistant vice-president student services Shirley Cleave has been brought out of retirement to oversee his portfolio, which now also oversees the Res Life director’s portfolio until a new director is hired.
O’Byrne said of Cleave: “She’s a very competent administrator and I expect that she will be able to sort things out.”