Northwestern to get new vice president of student affairs in summer

Susan Du

Patricia Telles-Irvin, a veteran University of Florida administrator who has shown a large interest in alcohol policy and was recently named president-elect of an 11,000-member group of college student affairs employees, will be Northwestern’s next vice president for student affairs, the University announced in a news release Monday afternoon.

Telles-Irvin, who has served in the same position at the Florida for seven years, will arrive at NU this summer, taking over for William Banis, who has held the post for the past 10 years.

“I know the students are going to love her,” said Ron Braeutigam, NU’s associate provost for undergraduate admission and the chairman of the search committee. “She just has a whole lot of things going for her.”

Telles-Irvin, who received the letter of invitation to work at NU last week, emerged from a 10-month search process that involved dozens of candidates of different backgrounds, Braeutigam said.

In an interview, Telles-Irvin said she is looking forward to examining student life at NU.

“I hope to settle in, start getting to know students,” Telles-Irvin said. “But then I’ll start looking at divisions, see how they’re serving students. I hope to partner with the president and provost in their strategic plans for benefiting the institution.”

Associated Student Government President Claire Lew said she has high hopes for Telles-Irvin to help advance student life and further develop the relationship between students and the administration.

“As the new vice president of student affairs, she will be spending a lot of time listening to the needs of the community and thinking about different ways of improving the University,” the SESP senior said. “I’m sure she’ll be spending as much time as possible reaching out to students.”

Telles-Irvin’s work at the University of Florida included broad initiatives to update infrastructure on campus, create an inclusive student environment and reduce the negative effects of alcohol abuse among students. Her involvement in student affairs at UF has led to expansion of the school’s recreational centers, renovations in housing and the addition of sprinkler systems for all fraternity and sorority houses.

Perhaps most important to NU students, Telles-Irvin spent the past several year helping to establish a “community alcohol coalition” of faculty, staff, students, city administrators and police to tackle the issue of binge drinking at UF. Telles-Irvin said the initiative was successful in reducing binge drinking on campus and decreasing the number of people transported to the hospital on a yearly basis.

But she said she has no prior perception of alcohol abuse at NU and plans to sit with students and listen to their concerns on the issue. Based on what she hears, she will work with people to put together a plan to reduce drinking if it’s necessary, she said.

Ultimately, Telles-Irvin said No. 1 on her agenda is meeting and hearing from students and maintains that her top priority is protecting them.

Her time at UF was also marked by a controversial incident in 2007 regarding one student group’s right to put up fliers reading “Radical Islam Wants You Dead” in order to publicize a screening of a film dealing with extremist jihadists. In reaction to the concerns of Muslim students on campus regarding the posters’ portrayal of cultural stereotypes, Telles-Irvin issued a letter asking for those who had put up the fliers to apologize. But her call for an apology was met with accusations of chilling the atmosphere of free speech at UF.

“Students were upset that (the fliers) seemed to convey Muslims were terrorists, which was what I was concerned about,” Telles-Irvin said. “I didn’t want students to feel scared. As general protocol, we in the past had sent e-mails to get students to understand diversity. Unfortunately, the e-mail was not taken correctly. I work very closely with students to make sure the University of Florida is a place that welcomed and included them.”

In an interview, Provost Dan Linzer said he expects Telles-Irvin to continue the good leadership Banis has shown for so long by creating the best student experience possible.

“What we are looking for from such a distinguished, accomplished student affairs leader is for her to address the needs and aspirations of students,” he said. “Also, a big part of her job is managing the internal operations of student affairs, making sure those within the department have the ability to accomplish the agenda she sets for improving the university.”

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