Staff departures, declining enrollment force campus-wide departmental reorganizations

Photos courtesy

Photos courtesy

It’s not just Ken Heffner from the Student Activities Office (SAO): staff positions in other areas of the college will be reduced in the coming school year, as confirmed by Sarah Visser, vice president for student life.

Among the staff leaving are Bob Crow, director of commuter student life and assessment, and Joella Ranaivoson, associate chaplain for upperclass students. Residence life will also be changing its staffing model. This list does not represent all the staffing changes that will be occurring, as Chimes is only able to report on what has been made known. Additionally, while some positions are being eliminated, other departures are voluntary.

Bob Crow

“I knew the college was facing this challenge [of declining enrollment leading to budget cuts]. I was unprepared that it would be me,” said Bob Crow.

Crow first learned over spring break that his position as director of commuter student life and assessment would be eliminated. The elimination is a result of Calvin’s dwindling tuition-driven budget.

Crow has been with Calvin for 23 years: first as a resident director (RD), then as dean of student development for 16 years. After his department was dissolved to form various offices — a move prompted by the college’s expansion of its ethnic minority and international populations, he said — Crow stepped into his current role as director of commuter student life and assessment.

In his current capacity, Crow’s responsibilities cover the 40 percent of students who live off-campus, as well as the students who live in Alliance housing (for student-athletes) and Project Neighborhood (intentional Christian community in off-campus housing). Crow also assesses how these students are learning and growing in accordance with Calvin’s mission. This work will continue to be carried out by other staff in the student life division, he said.

“He’s been one of the people that have made Calvin really home for me,” said senior Sophia Medawar, who has worked with Crow for three years. “When Mr. Crow spoke to me about the situation, I was flustered and upset — but he was totally gracious, and only spoke highly of his colleagues and superiors. I’m attempting to mirror his positive, loving, and Christ-like attitude in this really confusing time.”

Crow expressed respect for his supervisors, who also offered him a different position that would be a hybrid of his current one and the work of other parts of student life. Ultimately, though, he decided that “it was a position that I would say was not appropriate for me given my level of education and experience.”

Part of this work has now been filled, said Crow. Meanwhile, Crow is currently seeking other job opportunities in Grand Rapids, both within and outside of higher education.

“Frankly, I love this place. I don’t want to leave under these circumstances,” said Crow. “I have absolutely no regrets. It’s been a place that I’ve felt I can serve well. I have great colleagues around me. I have terrific students … from all over the world.”

He continued, “What drew me was the quality of this place and its commitment to its mission, and that was in 1998 … that’s what kept me here, and that’s still what I’m going to tell people about Calvin College. … I will greatly miss it.”

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Pastor Joella

Rev. Joella Ranaivoson has worked in the campus ministries office for the past three years. Prior to that, she was an MDiv (Master of Divinity) student at Calvin Seminary, and before that, an undergrad at Calvin.

As a citizen of Madagascar, Ranaivoson was in the process of applying for a green card, with Calvin’s help. It did not go as hoped, and the news signaled to Ranaivoson that it was time to move on.

“Calvin has shaped and formed me for the last 10 years of my life — all of my adult life — and it has been an important place and community for me,” Ranaivoson said in an email to Chimes. “I’m leaving knowing it is right — it’s time — but any change or transition involves loss. So, it is a sad thing, but it is a good thing for me.”

While her position will not be refilled due to budget constraints, Ranaivoson’s work will be continued through a partnership with several local church pastors. The local pastors will not be Calvin employees, said Ranaivoson. However, they “will be on campus next year with office hours available to meet with students,” according to an email sent to the student life division by the campus ministries office, which has three remaining pastors on staff.

Residence life staff

Calvin currently has a resident director (RD) for each of the seven residence halls, as well as one graduate assistant in KHvR. Next year, the model will change: there will be three full-time RDs, two full-time area coordinators and two new graduate assistants, according to John Witte, dean of students. (The staffing of the on-campus apartment community, which includes one area coordinator and two graduate assistants, will not change.)

Witte clarified that the changes will not result in any staff being laid off, but rather, “maintains our program, allows for some promotion, and creates an avenue for two new professionals in graduate assistant roles.”

The restructuring of non-student staffing within residence life is, as with other changes, part of the process of working with a reduced operational budget. This is because fewer residents are living in the residence halls.

Witte explained that RDs typically stay in their positions for two to four years, so they see a lot of natural turnovers. In restructuring, two RD roles will become graduate assistantships, while two current RDs are being upgraded to area coordinator roles.

“As much as we wanted things to remain the same, we knew the timing was right for some creative thinking,” wrote Witte in an email to Chimes. “At least two full-time staff positions were open due to natural departures.”

He went on to explain that graduate assistantships are a common staffing strategy at other colleges and universities.

“Since the graduate assistants will live in one hall and have their office there, they will certainly become more of the go-to person for students in that hall,” wrote Witte, who explained that an area coordinator and graduate assistant would work together to operationally support two halls, including supporting RAs (resident assistants).

Witte hopes that the graduate assistantships will be an opportunity “that is rich for people looking for experience in residence life and student affairs work.”

He added the upcoming year would be a pilot year for this new model, and he anticipates some tweaking along the way. Residence life will also retain oversight from the central office staff of two directors, a housing assistant and a part-time administrative assistant.

Administrative response

Sarah Visser, vice president for student life, mentioned that she views organizational changes through at least two lenses: emotional and structural.

On the emotional side, Visser wrote in an email to Chimes, “These are people that we value and want to care well for, and they are in deep relationship with others within our community who are also impacted by transitions.”

According to Visser, vice presidents have been working for several months on how the college can fulfill its mission while living within its changing means.

“I believe that when we start with the end in mind, then it’s not simply a conversation about cuts and reductions,” she stated. “Instead it’s about structuring the organization in a way that serves students as best we can with the resources we have … We covet the prayers of the Calvin community as we seek to lead with wisdom and grace in this current season.”