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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Interim CHAS dean emphasizes communication

Jennifer Cooley, a professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures, will be interim dean for CHAS until June.

After the Fall 2023 semester ended, CHAS Dean Dr. John Fritch announced he was taking a position at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. As a result, CHAS looked for an Interim Dean who would take over the duties of Fritch. Jennifer Cooley, who has worked at UNI for almost twenty-five years, took over in January of 2024. Cooley has worked as a professor in the language and literature department, teaching Spanish classes to a variety of students. Cooley has extensive experience in leadership roles, as a department head as well as an associate dean.

Cooley has been the interim dean since January, and will be until June. There is not a lot of time to get major projects completed, but Cooley has been hard at work with the Campus Climate survey.

“We’ve just conducted that large Campus Climate survey, the data has been analyzed and cleaned up,” Cooley said. “And when I say that, I mean that any sort of identifying markers have been removed from the data to protect people who are nice enough to participate in it, I’ve been working with that data and I think that I have a great chance to get broad engagement across my college.”

Since the results have been condensed and generalized, Cooley has been interested in discussing issues some students reported on.

“Some of the issues that are bubbling to the top in that climate survey are that it seems as though there are certain cross sections of people at UNI that do not feel comfortable,”  Cooley said. “I would really like to drill down on that and see what that means to not feel comfortable.”

Cooley has been digging deep into the reasons behind students’ feelings. While discussing the climate survey Cooley added, “Another thing that bubbled to the top was that many people have considered leaving UNI, and without a conversation about that topic; you don’t really know. Have you considered leaving because you had a bad day?”

She continued, “The question was structured, ‘Have you ever seriously considered leaving UNI?’, and that’s a big question. Does that mean I want to drop everything and no longer be at a university, does that mean I want to drop everything and transfer, does that mean I had a big fight with my roommate, I mean, that’s another example where I think it’s going to be great to get into face-to-face conversations with people, and unpack that.”

I don’t want my voice to be driving the conversation. I want it to be a good exchange of ideas between everyone.

— Jennifer Cooley, Interim CHAS Dean

‘Dean’s Tea is a new communication-based event that Cooley has just created. There are three dates set aside for faculty, students and staff to come have a conversation with Cooley about anything they desire. March 1 is for faculty, April 5 is for students, and May 3 is for staff. If you wish to RSVP for one of these dates; contact [email protected]. While looking deeper into the results of the campus climate survey, Cooley found that students feel as though they lack communication with those in charge.

“People across campus did not feel like they had open ends of communication with upper administration, and I liberally decided that the Dean is part of upper administration.. And this is a great opportunity to open those lines of communication.”

During Dean’s Tea, all members of UNI are encouraged to come and ask Cooley any questions. These questions for faculty may include tenure information, and for students it may be about inclusivity. Cooley is adamant on hearing the experiences and opinions of folks here at UNI.

“I want this to be a chance for people to be able to pose questions for me, I don’t want my voice to be driving the conversation. I want it to be a good exchange of ideas between everyone.”

Cooley also says that during Dean’s Tea she will let students, faculty and staff know that she is available to meet outside of this time. She is available by appointment, and is willing to discuss whatever issues students may have. Since Dean’s Tea is an informal event in nature, Cooley adds, “I don’t want to have them air their grievances in this setting, so I will reiterate the fact that I always have time available for one-on-one meetings if people want to come, I’m always open to those kinds of conversations.”

While the climate survey is a larger project that Cooley is working on, her day-to-day responsibilities are just as important. There are decisions to be made on her end that can impact others, and Cooley touches on that topic. She deals with confidential documents on a daily basis, and is attentive to her colleagues who work alongside her. “You gotta prioritize what you do first, second and third because it’s all really important, and if you don’t do this one it’s gonna ruin someone else’s day.”   

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