Laker named new dean of student affairs

Jason Laker will be moving from Minnesota to Kingston to take up the post of dean of student affairs in July.
Jason Laker will be moving from Minnesota to Kingston to take up the post of dean of student affairs in July.

After an unsuccessful first attempt last year, the University has appointed a new dean of student affairs.

Dr. Jason Laker, currently dean of campus life at St. John’s University in Minnesota, will begin his five-year term in July 2006.

Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academic), was chair of an Advisory Committee composed of faculty, administration and student leaders who made the appointment.

“The University conducted a search before and wasn’t successful,” Deane said. “Eventually, it came down to a choice of two candidates, both of whom were outstanding.” Rabidoux said Laker is a true academic and has a good grasp of many of the issues that are currently unresolved and unattended to at the University.

“[The position is one] with a very small margin of error, because you’re dealing with issues that’ll truly make or break students, especially in their first year,” he said.

Laker told the Journal he’s excited to join the Queen’s community.

“What was striking to me was the commitment people have to finding consensus and that, too, is distinctive,” he said. “I’ve worked at several universities and that feature about Queen’s I found very engaging. I think the opportunity to work in a setting where that’s the case is a rare opportunity that I don’t take lightly.”

Prior to his post at St. John’s University, Laker worked at the University of Arizona in Student Affairs and Continuing Education. He received his PhD from the University of Arizona, majoring in higher education administration and organization and minoring in student affairs.

Laker said his experiences have taught him to appreciate the importance of taking time to understand the culture of each institution. Once installed at Queen’s, he plans to question students vigorously to learn about their views and consider a variety of perspectives before arriving to a conclusion about what the University is about, he said.

“A lot of times, big schools wouldn’t have one coherent culture,” he said. “Queen’s is distinctive in having that while being a large university. It is to be commended that a community can bring that together while still growing.”

Laker said one challenge he expects to face as Dean of Student Affairs is finding consensus between many student voices and the obligations of the administration.

He added that there is a lot of collaboration between different factions at Queen’s, and from his experience, problems that arise are usually a result of communication breakdown.

Laker said his main concern as dean of student affairs will be ensuring there is a place for each person at the institution.

“A good dean of students is going to be attentive of that question, because at the end of the day, the work is about community building.” A challenge Laker will face, Deane said, is the need to deal with problems that are pressing while familiarizing himself with the University at the same time.

He added he feels Laker will have no trouble understanding the complexity of Queen’s issues, however.

“[Laker] is a person who has a sophisticated understanding with these affairs,” Deane said. “He will see that Aberdeen is not just Aberdeen, but connected to a large number of student concerns.”

Rabidoux added that other challenges for the new dean include Homecoming, town-gown relations, the advancement of the Queen’s Centre, issues of diversity and racism, and life in residence.

“Students are less than pleased with [deregulation],” he said. “That’s going to be another challenge, because the dean of student affairs is in an awkward position where they have to represent students to administrators and administrators to students.”

Another important issue for Laker to be sensitive to is the “unfortunate incidences” related to visible minorities in the Queen’s and local community, Rabidoux said. He said such occurrences included a student dressing in blackface last Halloween, the Kingston Whig-Standard printing a controversial photo of a black KCVI student jumping on an overturned car at Homecoming, and the Kingston Police last year releasing data suggesting racial profiling within the force. This climate is especially a concern for a University that promotes internationalism, he said.

A self-proclaimed ethnographer, Laker said he will make himself known amongst students by talking to as many people as he can. He also plans to invite particular student groups to meetings and to find out their perspectives early on in his post.

“I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of different students and that’s how I approach my current job,” he said. “I have to remember there are many voices to represent ... so while I’m articulating the student perspective, I can speak in terms of the various voices and how one relates to the other. I have to work hard to listen to all of them.”

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