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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ mum on Sawyer resignation

Published: August 23, 2013
Section: Front Page, News

Former Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer left Brandeis at the end of July. Since his arrival at Brandeis in 1981, Sawyer served 32 years at the University, witnessing changes as the school matured. And while President Frederick Lawrence’s email to faculty, staff and students wished Sawyer well, it neglected to disclose one detail: Sawyer did not retire, he chose to resign.

“I concluded my time at Brandeis was complete, and it was a resignation on my part,” said Sawyer in a phone interview last week. “This wasn’t the way I hoped my time at Brandeis would end.”

Sawyer believes his legacy is the student affairs model, which Brandeis held in place from 1984 until 2011. “When I got there in 1981, there wasn’t really much of a plan. In 1984, my mentor and former dean and I booked the model that was in place,” Sawyer said.

It may have been changes in this policy that prompted Sawyer’s departure. “With the arrival of new people in senior administration, they have a different vision of the future,” he said.

Sawyer built the entire orientation program for first-year students. At the beginning of each semester, he would often walk outside his office to see orientation leaders discussing homesickness and the policies of the university with their AIDE groups, or wave to CORE leaders as they walked by. But this year, Sawyer will not be on campus to witness as the class of 2017 learns from a program he created.

He is proud of the changes he made to the orientation program. “Constructing and growing an orientation program became one of my most favorite parts, a lot of great memories with that,” he said. Sawyer also oversaw multiple departments within the Division of Students and Enrollment.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Rick Sawyer has had a transformative impact on student life at Brandeis,” wrote Lawrence in his email.

Sawyer served under six different presidents of the university (Marver H. Bernstein, Evelyn E. Handler, Stuart H. Altman, Samuel O. Their, Jehuda Reinharz, and Frederick Lawrence), though in his email, President Lawrence only mentioned that he had worked under four of the eight Brandeis presidents.

“The president was a little bit inaccurate; there have been six presidents since 1981,” said Sawyer. “Brandeis went through a lot and I went through almost half of its life in that place. I watched an institution get through some growing pains.”

Sawyer made it clear that he is not retiring. “I was still some years away from any retirement plans,” he said. While he is currently spending time with family and friends, in the near future he intends to have conversations about re-entering the academic field.

Faculty at Brandeis refused to disclose information on why Sawyer left Brandeis, or to discuss his time there or any memories of his service. “We don’t share personal matters due to confidentiality,” said Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president for Communications.

While Sawyer also did not disclose the exact reasons why he chose to depart, he did mention feeling unhappy. “The university and I had different views on what I should do as we move on, my role in my deanship was being changed, and [it] wouldn’t have given me the happiness and feeling of continued achievement.”

In August, the university hired Jamele Adams to replace Sawyer as the Dean of Students. Adams has nine years of experience at Brandeis.

“I have never in my career found any individual so able to give voice to students’ emotions, especially around challenging issues,” wrote Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel in an email to faculty, students and staff. “I have every confidence that he is the right leader for this critical role at Brandeis.”