New dean of students begins tenure

Bukanc will work with the other Deans on examining the role of student conduct and responsibility. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.
Bukanc will work with the other Deans on examining the role of student conduct and responsibility. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.

On April 20, Rachel Bukanc began her tenure as the new senior associate dean and dean of student conduct.

This position has been vacant since the summer of 2012 when Charlie Toomajian retired. The job was formerly known as the associate dean of the College and registrar. 

“We didn’t replace [Toomajian] right away because we wanted to think about what kind of person we might want to bring in and what kind of role would best serve students more generally as well as faculty and staff,” Dean of the College Sarah Bolton said.

After several discussions, the College decided to hire a candidate who could provide leadership in all aspects of work in the Dean’s office and help the College formally reflect on the role of student responsibility on campus, according to Bolton.

“We want to think about the purpose of having a code of conduct: what do we mean by it, what are the ways that we want to be accountable to one another as a community, how should that look,” Bolton said. “Once we understand what purpose that serves, we need to figure out how it is best implemented on a daily basis as concerns come up about the ways students are treating one another.”

According to Bolton, the College has not conducted a similar review for at least a decade. “We haven’t thought those things through across the board,” she said.

“Dr. Bukanc is available to meet with students for assistance in any aspect of their academic or personal lives,” Bolton said in her announcement to the student body. “As an additional area of focus, she will work on ensuring that our responses to violations of community standards work as well as they possibly can, so that both students who are accused of violations of the code of conduct and students who bring forward concerns about other students’ actions will find policies and processes that are transparent, respectful and effective.”

Bukanc will also work closely with faculty and staff in Student Life, Campus Safety and Security, Health and Psychological Counseling Services, Academic Resources, the Davis Center, the Chaplains’ office, as well as with Meg Bossing ’05, the director of sexual assault prevention and response.

In the fall, the College conducted a national search for the position. In January, three finalists visited campus to talk with students and faculty.

Bukanc was previously the assistant dean and director of student rights and responsibilities at Florida State University.

“[Bukanc] is very excited about being at a small college and particularly at Williams where she can work with students individually and think structurally about how best to support them across all the areas of their lives,” Bolton said. “She thought about these issues in ways that were both similar to ways we thought about them but also added new layers from the experiences she has in ways that we thought would strengthen our ability to look out for students.”

“She brought the large structural knowledge coming from a big university in addition to having some of the liberal arts background as well,” Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, said. “She can help us both think about real structural things that we implement at the same time as helping us to understand the educational aspect of conduct work.”

According to Bolton, amongst peer institutions, there is a wide range of student involvement in rulings regarding student conduct, ranging from systems in which decisions are made exclusively by deans to those in which decisions are made almost exclusively by a student judicial board. For the most part, the College currently operates under the “dean model,” since the College’s network of deans handles most decisions regarding student conduct, but Bukanc will examine this process as part of understanding the current student code of conduct at the College.

“We were looking for someone with broad expertise overall in student affairs and the wellbeing of students and who also had some experience and could lead a campus conversation,” Bolton said, “and this is what we are going to do next year about how we might want to think about these things and how that might then play out in terms of policies and how practices might be set up.”