Fall looms without successor for Barr

Casey Newton

For the first time in eight years, Northwestern will begin Fall Quarter without Peggy Barr as vice president for student affairs — and maybe without a vice president for student affairs at all.

“It’s not inconceivable that the search could continue into next year,” said University President Henry Bienen. “I don’t think we’re close. There’s still some stuff to be resolved.”

In October administrators said they wanted to have the position filled by January or February. In February, administrators identified a short list of candidates and began interviews. The target date for a replacement was moved to March or early April.

But now administrators say a new vice president might not be named when Barr retires in June.

“It’s taking a long time to find somebody with the right combination of experience and skills,” said Bill Johnston, a member of the search committee, which presented its findings to Bienen and Provost Lawrence Dumas in January. “We’re looking for somebody whose background and vision fits with Northwestern’s.”

Added Bienen: “It’s complicated. We want to be sure we have the right person.”

Dumas and Marilyn McCoy, chairwoman of the search committee, declined to comment on the search.

Johnston, director of Norris University Center, said the responsibilities of NU’s vice president for student affairs differ from similar positions at public universities.

“Our students are very special and we need someone who understands a private institution,” he said. “It’s different from a public institution role. …The responsibilities are different, and this vice president is a major position. Its scope and responsibilities are as big as any in the country.”

Among the 11 divisions of student affairs overseen by NU’s vice president for student affairs are Associated Student Government, health and counseling services, residential life, Norris and multicultural affairs.

Should the year begin without a replacement, the university would take special measures to ensure that students’ needs are met, Johnston said.

“If we don’t have a person in place, some provision will be made by the provost,” he said.

Johnston said students will not be adversely affected if a no one is named before fall.

“It’s tantamount to saying that if the provost left, and we began the year without a provost, that we would cancel classes,” Johnston said. “It ain’t gonna happen.”

He said many employees of the 15-person office have been vice president at other schools.

“It’s a pretty competent staff,” he said. “We prove ourselves daily.”

Barr, 60, announced her retirement in May after 38 years as a student affairs administrator. During her eight years at NU, Barr enforced rules to make tailgates dry and secured more than $21 million to renovate and improve housing units

She has also worked to reorganize several student service offices, including large-scale programs such as Counseling and Psychological Services and career services.