The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Uncommon Interview: Dean of Students in the College Philip Venticinque

Venticinque, who began his tenure in February, told the Maroon about his transition into being a dean “for” students and his efforts to raise graduation rates and proactively support students.
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
Dean of Students in the College, Philip Venticinque in his office.

Dean of Students in the College, Philip Venticinque A.B. ’01, A.M. ’02, Ph.D. ’09 sat down with the Maroon early this quarter to discuss his transition into the role of dean of students, his work with other offices and groups in the College, and who he looks up to as his mentors and role models in being a “dean for students”.

Venticinque started his tenure as dean of students on February 1 transitioning from his previous position in the Office of the Provost, where he had served since 2018. He returned to UChicago after teaching at Cornell College from 2009 to 2018, first as an assistant professor and then as an associate professor of Classics.

Prior to teaching at Cornell College, Venticinque spent twelve years as a student at UChicago earning his B.A. in Classics and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics; M.A. with the Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World; and Ph.D. in Classics in the Program in the Ancient Mediterranean World.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and shortened for brevity.

Chicago Maroon: How has the past month been for you?

Philip Venticinque: It’s been incredible […] It has been exciting. It has been humbling as an alumnus coming back to the College. There’s so many of those moments where I’ve been able to be in contact with some of my old mentors like my own [former] Dean of Students, Susan Art—I’ve been talking to Susan.

In terms of what I’ve been spending my days doing, I’ve been spending my days trying to be the “dean for students.” I’ve been meeting a lot with the people that work here in the Dean of Students Office centrally and in all of our groups: the advising office, the Center for College Student Success, College Programming and Orientation [CPO].

I have been meeting with a lot of students, and I’m eager to keep meeting with a lot of students. It’s been my attempt to try to onboard myself or reintroduce myself to the College. It’s an institution and a place that I know very well—not just from having been a student here for so long in the College and in the humanities division. I know it from all the time I spent in the Office of the Provost, where I was lucky enough to focus so much of my portfolio. In the Office of the Provost, I really became focused on the College and teaching and learning, between accreditation and any number of things that I was involved with; and [that] allowed me to build on everything that I had done as a professor at a small liberal arts college.

And we can’t forget our campus partners […]. Because the College is perhaps in some sense—I think [Edward H.] Levi said this—it’s this sort of ideal heart to the University, right? The different parts of [the] University all feed into the College. This is the place where we come together, even centrally when you look out the windows, right? We’re in the middle of campus from over the Midway, on the other side of Midway. So metaphorically and literally, we’re like the heart of campus. So much of the work of the College is integrated with Campus and Student Life.

That’s a long answer. I could have just said, I’ve been really having a ton of fun working with old friends and new friends and colleagues, and trying to get to know the ways and think critically about something I’ve been saying a lot, even when I was doing accreditation: how is the university, on the student level, reproducing itself, generation to generation? What are the sorts of things that connect me and you, current student and former student? What are the things that we do in the classroom, out of the classroom, RSOs, campus and student life, housing, experiences with office hours, core tutors? You name it. How are we going from matriculation to graduation and beyond, in the sort of certain way that we do it around here?

CM: Has your own experience being a student here informed anything about your work?

PV: My own experience as a student here as an undergraduate and graduate student has informed all the conversations I’ve been having with everyone, students in particular. When I asked those questions about how your Hum class was going, or which Sosc class you’re taking, how would you find reading Smith and Marx in the autumn quarter, things like that—these aren’t just questions, this is sort of a shared language amongst University of Chicago students based on a shared experience.

So it has been so much fun to start having those conversations again, and think about how I experienced the College and the formative experiences I had, including with Susan, who used to have this office, [former Vice President and Dean of Students in the University] Steve Klass who used to do what [current Dean of Students in the University] Michelle Rasmussen does—the sort of folks I worked with very closely when I was in student government.

For instance, we’ve been meeting with the folks from the Student Advocate Office. It’s been really interesting to think about their approach to their work as students, and their approach to engagement with administration and the College. I think the common aspect of that is that we’re all interested in supporting students, improving the student experience, and thinking holistically. And that’s why those conversations so far have been so good, right? I have spent a ton of time the last few years thinking about the student experience in the classroom, and that certainly informs when I’m thinking about advising, or when people talk to me about their advising experience, or when I’m working with the college advisors.

But there’s so much more to being a U of C student than those three to four hours a day spent in class, right? So much of what you do, who you are, who you are becoming—I use the progressive there, right, because we’re all still becoming—so much of that is happening outside the classroom. I still think a lot of who I am and what I do was impacted by those para-curricular, co-curricular, classroom-adjacent type things, where you’re learning how to apply the rigorous inquiry, critical thinking, asking questions, developing research questions—the sorts of things you do in class—to other issues, regardless of what you might be passionate about.

CM: Could you give me an overview of the structure of the Dean of Students office? Who are all the partners that you work with?

PV: The Dean of Students Office actually is multifaceted, and it has in fact changed a lot since I was a student. When I was a student in the College, the Dean of Students Office really was just advising. Things like the were coming into existence. So, what is the Dean of Students Office [now]? It’s the advising office. It’s the CPO. It’s Telaya [LeGette] in the Center for College Student Success. It’s [Office of College] Community Standards, which is again a new part of the office—this is where questions of academic standing take place, we have a set office—the idea there is, it’s for supporting students in these moments in one’s career.

There’s also what I’m starting to call the central student support team, Jacqui [Payne, Assistant Director of Retention], Joshua [Moeller, Assistant Director of the Office of College Community Standards], Koryna [Bucholz, Deputy Dean of Students], and others that we’re trying to hire and build out, who are there to help students on a number of levels, socially and academically.

A passion of mine, and something that I’m hoping for [is that] in three, four or five years from now, that part of the office has really taken hold and grown. And we’ve figured out new ways to support students on, for instance, delayed graduation timelines. People that don’t finish in four years. We have an amazingly high graduation rate across the board at all levels, but I want everybody to finish. That’s not good enough for me that we graduate most people—I want to graduate everybody; I want everybody to succeed. People come and go on leave for different reasons. Those are the students that I’m hoping we’re going to find new ways to support when they’re reorienting themselves with the College. I think it’s some of the most important work that we can do here.

Our focus on that cohort, I think, is also going to help us with the students in year one, two, three, and four, because we’re going to find new ways to support people over the entirety of their of their career here, and work with academics, work with our instructors, work with people in the Center for Teaching and Learning, work with people on campus and student life, work with people in housing, trying to find ways that we can be proactive. That’s another pillar of mine. It’s easy in a job like this—and including my old job at the Office of the Provost—it’s easy to be reactive, to intervene, and wave a wand and try to fix things once things go wrong. I want to help us all think about how to intervene early. The trick is to think about things systematically, process wise, so that we can intervene earlier and can help students not even struggle the first time.

That’s the hope: to be more proactive. I want us to be more strategic. I hope that we can build this out so that we have fewer moments.

CM: You said you’re sort of still in the mode of the “new guy soaking up information.” What’s your process of finding what’s important from conversations that you have, and then building some priorities and knowledge from that?

PV: I think in spreadsheets. I’m a humanist and a classicist, and by training, I spend a lot of time—or I used to spend a lot of time—working with papyri from Egypt. I worked on contracts, letters, receipts, guild charters, so I studied ancient craftsmen and merchants and the rules they forged to govern their own communities. So, I think a lot about people working together and how that all fits in. And each one of these documents is sort of like an individual piece of data, right? One receipt tells a story. [But] 37 receipts tell more of a story about transactions in Tunis and first century Roman Egypt. Same thing with a letter. One letter home is interesting. 75 letters tell us more about Roman letter writing practices and things like that.

You asked about my process. I am meeting with everybody. I am meeting with everyone who works in my office. I am meeting with people across the College; there’s a couple hundred people that work for the College, believe it or not, just on the administrative side. I’m trying to meet with as many people as possible. I’m asking a lot of questions. I’m compiling a lot of notes. I’m compiling a lot of data.

I’m building my own Dean of Students onboarding archive, and I am trying to think about common themes, issues, opportunities, and challenges that people have identified, because we have an amazingly talented group of people that work here at the College.

I want to think about ways not only from my own ideas but harnessing the amazing work and ideas from people like Koryna who’s our Deputy Dean of Students. Josh and Jacqui have amazing ideas about intervening in students’ lives and helping them succeed. Telaya has amazing things about first-gen, low-income (FGLI) students and thinking about that cohort. The folks at the advising office, from systems and enrollment to just individual meetings with students—so much critical thinking and thought, and so many good ideas that people have. I’m trying to figure out which ones we can amplify. I’m trying to think about ways that we all can be thought partners and start thinking about how the things that we do on a small level, and then a large level, fit into learning goals and outcomes.

Challenging the myths we tell ourselves—that’s something that I learned from Melina [Hale] a long time ago, thinking about, what could we be doing differently? Why haven’t we been doing it in certain ways? I know this feels kind of abstract. But that’s my thought process. It’s a process founded on dialogue, because we make better decisions. When there’s more people at the table. It’s not just about me, it’s about shared vision and shared process.

CM: I’m curious what you’re excited about in the coming months.

PV: What aren’t I excited about? I’m excited for the summer breeze. I’m excited about engaging with campus in the spring. It’s such a vibrant time, being out, being able to meet [students]. I’m excited about doing all this work I’m doing right now, quite frankly. I mean, the onboarding work is so interesting. It’s fun finding new friends and new thought partners. Going into the things, learning from the students, embracing you guys as thought partners, too. That’s why I’m really eager to meet with [students]. We’re trying to get office hours set up soon. I want to do it monthly, maybe even more often, because I need the ideas.

CM: Your predecessor, Jay Ellison, was not the most uncontroversial person, and some students have said that they felt unsupported during his tenure. How do you think about that experience? Does it inform how you view the way you go about your role right now, and moving forward, how you will go about it?

PV: My approach to the role, I think, is more influenced by what I learned from Susan Art and what I learned from Steve Klass, who were my Deans of Students. In fact, their names are on a bunch of this stuff in my office that I have in frames and keep as keepsakes, and as constant reminders of their influence on me as mentors and friends.

They approached the job with an amazing amount of openness. I didn’t invent the “more dialogue, less monologue” thing, right? I learned it. I made it sound pithy, but I learned it from them, and they were masters at it. There was never a moment that I couldn’t go to Susan and talk about something. There was never a moment that I couldn’t go and talk to Steve about something. Steve was the Vice President and Dean of Students when I was a student ombudsman for those years, and I learned about patience, I learned about collaboration, I learned about meeting students where they are. That is what I’m bringing to this job.

And I hope students will always feel listened to, always feel supported, always know that the people in this office are going to meet you guys where you are, and hopefully be there to support you.

This is a hard place. It’s a demanding place, and I know that academically having been here and taught here as a graduate student. And my approach to this job is founded by the time I spent with Susan and Steve watching them do the work. They would come meet with me when I was doing student government things; I would sit across the table with Steve and go through some of the thorniest issues that came to the ombudsman’s office and learn, again, patience and grace too because sometimes, it’s about thinking about how this one thing impacts large scale policy and thinking forward.

So all that being said, I mean, I hope you guys always feel supported by the folks here. That’s what I’m bringing to the job. The other thing I’m bringing to the job is 10 years as a liberal arts professor. I approach most things as still teaching. Advising is teaching, and teaching is advising. Working with meetings and managing large university processes and things—I’m still similar at heart, even though I don’t teach all the time like I used to at a liberal arts college, that’s still very much what’s in my core.

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About the Contributors
Tiffany Li
Tiffany Li, News Editor
Tiffany Li is a member of the Class of 2026 after transferring from Middlebury College. She studies political science and economics and is interested in housing policy, international relations, and music. She reports and edits for the News section of the Maroon and is also on the Arts, Copy-editing, and Data teams.
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon, Deputy Photo Editor, News Reporter
Nathaniel is a first year in the college studying history and Education and Society. He is a News Reporter and Deputy Photo Editor for the Maroon.
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