As a search committee looks for Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair’s replacement, the Editorial Board urges it to select candidates who can further Nair’s work as a liaison for underrepresented student groups, an advocate for open expression and a reformer of Greek Life. Though Nair achieved much in these areas, Emory’s new dean must build on his accomplishments and continue to address student concerns and needs.
Nair made himself available to students through open office hours and “Desserts with the Dean,” an annual event held in his home. He addressed student concerns by remaining informed and connected to students, especially through social media. When Emory’s women’s tennis team Head Coach Amy Bryant posted a photograph of an insensitive Halloween costume last October on her Facebook, Nair responded to students’ concerns in a timely and thoughtful manner, legitimizing students’ voices. He also helped student organizations such as Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management (EEVM) obtain their own space on campus this past year. Nair set a high standard in accessibility, and his successor should strive to match it.
During his tenure, Nair fostered an Emory community conscious of social justice, created the Commission on Racial and Social Justice and served as a liaison between underrepresented groups and the administration, often during periods of high tension on campus. Despite criticisms of the administration’s handling of the event, Nair directly worked to address the 13 demands made by student group Black Students at Emory in 2015, earning him media praise. University President Claire E. Sterk said that Emory’s division of Campus Life became “a national pacesetter on issues of social justice” under Nair’s leadership. To maintain this distinction, Emory must ensure that any candidate considered to lead Campus Life has extensive experience working with minority groups.
Nair has repeatedly emphasized the importance of free speech and open dialogue. Emory currently has a green light rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE); Emory is one of only 37 universities nationwide to achieve this rating for its free speech policies. The new dean of Campus Life must ensure that this respect for open expression continues, even in the face of unpopular speech. Such a commitment is essential to ensuring that Emory remains a place where ideas can be exchanged freely.
Further, to foster a culture more considerate of students’ well-being, the next dean should encourage greater allocation of resources toward mental health services. While the University makes an effort to advertise the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program, students often complain about long waiting periods for CAPS appointments and a general lack of mental health resources on campus. Increasing the number of CAPS appointments and counselors available and continuing to explore other resources for students is key to cultivating a healthier and more resilient student body.
Finally, Nair regarded reforming Emory’s Greek life as one of the most significant issues facing Campus Life, but told the Wheel in January that his vision for a more inclusive Greek life system remains unfulfilled. Nair launched Emory’s Greek Life Task Force (GLTF) and worked with student leaders in Greek life and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to address hazing, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault. While some of his actions were controversial, Nair was dedicated to improving student safety. We hope that the next dean can finish the job Nair set out to complete and work to build a healthier relationship between the University and its Greek community.
While Nair’s tenure was not without criticism, he has left a legacy of reform that we hope the next dean of Campus Life can successfully maintain while championing new policies of their own.
The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju and Isaiah Sirois.