Search for new nursing dean underway

The dean of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences will return to teaching and researching, her first loves, in the fall, an assistant to the dean said Tuesday.Rhonda Keen-Payne originally agreed to serve as dean for five years but is now in her sixth year, said the assistant, Sharon Hudson.

Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said Keen-Payne stayed for the sixth year at his request.

“I asked her to stay for an extra year when I became provost so I wouldn’t have to begin the search for a new dean right away, and she graciously agreed,” Donovan said.

Keen-Payne is currently on sick leave and could not be reached for comment.

Donovan said a 13-member committee of faculty, staff and one student was created last November to search for Keen-Payne’s replacement and that he hopes to have a candidate selected by the end of the spring semester.

Jennifer Watson, who heads the search committee, said efforts have been made to advertise in a variety of publications to attract diverse applicants who could represent the various disciplines in the college, such as nursing, social work and kinesiology.

“This is a unique search in that we are casting such a wide net,” said Watson, a speech-language pathology associate professor.

She said the committee will meet Friday to begin reviewing applicants.

Donovan said that although the candidates will only have one area of specialization, they must show administrative ability and a sympathetic understanding of the college as a whole.

“In my opinion, a candidate must show a breadth of leadership,” Donovan said.

The committee will narrow the search to about three potential candidates who will visit the campus to meet with the chancellor, administrators, faculty and students in an open forum by the end of the semester, Donovan said.

“The candidates will enjoy interacting with students because one way they can gauge the quality of the university is by judging the quality of the students,” Donovan said.

For students, communication is going to be a key factor in selecting a new dean, said David Aguillard, the student representative for the search committee.

“Dr. Keen-Payne has been awesome with the open-door policy,” said Aguillard, a graduate student in the School of Nurse Anesthesia. “We want to see how this person is going to interact with students and see how they respond to students and their concerns.”

Aguillard said two open meetings to hear concerns from people outside the committee occurred at the end of last semester, but student turnout was low.

He said he will work to increase student representation and turnout at open meetings by finding students in the Bass Building lounges and speaking with them.

A similar search is also underway to replace June Koelker, the interim dean of the library, Donovan said.