Acting Dean Sonia Cardenas Named Dean of Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer

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Jack P. Carroll ‘24

Managing Editor 

President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney appointed Acting Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas as Trinity’s Dean of the Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer, according to an email from Berger-Sweeney Thursday afternoon. 

Cardenas’ appointment dates back to Mar. 2019 when she was named Interim Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs–following Tim Cresswell and Melanie Stein’s departure that month. At the time, Berger-Sweeney publicly stated that “The future academic leadership of the college is, of course, a primary consideration.” She also announced plans to begin gathering input to form a search for a new Chief Academic Officer. 

However, seven months after Cardenas’ interim appointment, Trinity’s Faculty Committee had not reached a resolution with Berger-Sweeney on the search process for a permanent Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Chief of Staff Jason Rojas told the Tripod that the Committee met with Berger-Sweeney on Oct. 25. Neither Rojas nor Former Faculty Secretary and Professor of Economics Mark Stater disclosed the details of the discussion. 

Berger-Sweeney officially announced the College’s search for a new Dean of the Faculty over a month later on Nov. 21. Her announcement revealed the members of the search committee which consisted entirely of faculty, staff and administrators. 

The Tripod previously reviewed faculty meeting minutes from the 1980s held by the Watkinson Archive; these meeting minutes confirmed that the search committee for a Dean of the Faculty used to include members of the faculty, administration and two students who conducted rounds of interviews for several candidates. However, a retired faculty member told the Tripod that the position was first held in 1968 and still “relatively new.” As a result, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was little precedent for how a Dean of the Faculty should be chosen. A search committee formed in 2005–under then President-Jimmy Jones–was composed of faculty. 

Berger-Sweeney’s Nov. 2019 announcement also revealed the College’s timeline for the search. During the months of November-December, the College would seek input from the community and finalize the search process and criteria. From January-February, candidates would be recruited and interviewed. In March-April, the College was scheduled to check references and extend an offer. 

Cardenas was among the short list of finalists under consideration by the search committee. Historically, interim deans were selected from within the Trinity faculty; permanent hiring for the position of Dean of the Faculty occurred through multi-constituent search committees which recommended candidates to the President of the College. These candidates were often from outside the Trinity community. 

After Jan Cohn’s departure from Trinity in 1994, President Tom Gerety appointed an external dean from Loyola College who served for one year, an interim dean from within the Trinity faculty, and an external Dean of the Faculty from Williams College. In 2005, a search committee composed of faculty participants interviewed and recommended candidates to then-President Jimmy Jones. This resulted in the hiring of Rena Fraden, a former Pomona College dean, who would serve at Trinity until 2013. 

Rojas told the Tripod via email that “The process for determining interim and final appointments is based on the needs of the college at the time that an appointment is made. Past experience can be helpful to informing present-day decision making but is not a standard which we are bound to follow.” He added, “How colleges attract and retain diverse talent has changed dramatically since the 1990s. We follow best practices for hiring rather than relying on past practices that too often did not result in the long-term retention of the college’s chief academic officer.”

Berger-Sweeney suspended the search on Apr. 3rd, 2020, amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cardenas was subsequently named Acting Dean of the Faculty in which she was “fully empowered with the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of the DOF/VPAA.” Her appointment was effective through June 30, 2022. 

“The principles of shared governance matter deeply to me, and I knew that changing course now, and in this way—while not prohibited by our charter, the Faculty Manual, or any other governing rules or policy—might be viewed as disregarding those principles. I assure you that I have not disregarded them,” said Berger-Sweeney when explaining her decision to suspend the search and permanently hire Cardenas to the position of Dean of the Faculty. “As president, I am ultimately responsible for making decisions that are in the best interest of the college as a whole, and that is what I have done here.” 

When asked about the total number of applicants under consideration prior to Cardenas’ appointment as Acting Dean of the Faculty, Rojas did not provide an exact figure and instead stated, “A search process for a senior level position like Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs generally results in dozens of interested applicants and includes a mix of internal and external candidates, often with more external applicants.”

Responding to questions about hiring from within Trinity as a way to alleviate the College’s unprecedented administrative turnover rate in recent years, Rojas told the Tripod “I am not sure of what standard you are using to define ‘unprecedented’ and don’t agree with the suggestion that any departure is somehow connected to whether the employee was an external or internal appointment.” “We make hiring decisions based on the circumstances of a particular search and the composition of the candidate pool. There is clear value to hiring internal candidates when appropriate.”

This article was updated on Wednesday, Sept. 8th to include administrative comment from Chief of Staff and Vice President for External Affairs Jason Rojas.

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