In an email sent out today, President Bollinger announced Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement Dennis Mitchell as the new Executive Vice President for University Life. Deputy Editor Rania Borgani and Deputy Science Editor Phoebe Lu sat down with the new EVP to interview Dr. Mitchell as he steps into this new role.
Dennis Mitchell will assume the role of Executive Vice President for University Life, according to an email sent out to the Columbia community by President Bollinger. In conjunction with his new role, Dr. Mitchell will continue in his duties as Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and as a professor in the College of Dental Medicine. His role was previously occupied by Suzanne Goldberg, who helped found the University Life Office. Goldberg had stepped down from her role in January 2021 to join the Department of Education under the Biden-Harris Administration.
Dr. Mitchell stated to Bwog that he first arrived in New York at the “height of the crack and HIV epidemic.” His work during his residency related to many of these issues and eventually led to a faculty appointment at Columbia. When Dr. Mitchell became the first Assistant Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Columbia’s dental school, he helped bring the percentage of dental students from underrepresented backgrounds from 3% to 20%. In addition to his work in the dental school, Dr. Mitchell has also served as the Director of Research and Community Dentistry at Harlem Hospital and as Director of the Harlem component of the Community DentCare Network for Columbia.
Building upon his work as an Assistant Dean, Dr. Mitchell was then offered a position as the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement. During his seven years in the Office of the Provost, Dr. Mitchell oversaw a more than $185 million investment in faculty diversity. President Bollinger credited Dr. Mitchell with broadening faculty recruitment to focus on “retention and professional advancement.” Much of Dr. Mitchell’s work at the Office of the Provost also intersected with the Office of University Life as he collaborated with Suzanne Goldberg to foster inclusion and belonging. Given this prior experience, Dr. Mitchell stated that his stepping into the role of EVP now “feels like a natural evolution.” Still, while he has had robust experience in the diversity and inclusion aspect of University Life, Dr. Mitchell states that there are still areas of his new role that he feels “unfamiliar” with, and hopes to learn from both students and his coworkers.
In his conversation with Bwog, Dr. Mitchell stated that he regards antiracism work to be imperative for the University and an integral part of his work. Dr. Mitchell had previously, along with his team, launched grants to fund faculty antiracism work, hosted events centered around the role of universities in furthering racial justice, and led a University-wide review where he gave recommendations on expanding Columbia’s commitment to antiracism. Among various topics, the review examined Columbia public safety’s role in antiracism, the experience of Columbia’s staff and administrators, and the physical representation of race on campus. In his new role as EVP, he hopes to engage students to also take on the responsibility of antiracism work through inviting student input on campus decisions and encouraging “hard conversations.” Dr. Mitchell also hopes to continue his work of including Columbia’s staff members into the conversation around University Life, as he believes that they have been at times left out of the conversation.
Beyond his commitment to antiracism, Bwog also asked Dr. Mitchell how he will support students’ mental well-being, a much-discussed aspect of university life, especially in light of additional stress brought on by COVID-19. Dr. Mitchell recognized the importance of mental services given his time in medical centers. As new EVP, Dr. Mitchell stated that the Office of University Life will continue to emphasize these services for students and promote a sense of wellbeing—whether here or virtually.
As he begins his new role, Dr. Mitchell stated that his top priority will be to listen to students. He hopes that Columbia’s student body will share their voices and their needs during this transitional period, helping him shape his leadership to best support Columbia students.
Email sent by President Bollinger to the Columbia community, August 17 11:03 AM EST:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
I am delighted to share that I have appointed Dennis Mitchell to be the next Executive Vice President for University Life. While taking on this new role, Dennis will also serve as Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and will continue to hold his faculty appointment at the College of Dental Medicine.
An expert clinician, researcher, and administrator, Dennis has devoted his 30-year career at Columbia to strengthening our community, perhaps most notably through his commitment to fostering an inclusive campus climate for new and rising faculty members. He is a natural leader for University Life’s critical work of building community among the next generation of thought leaders, researchers, and innovators—our students.
Dennis joined Columbia in 1991 after receiving his doctorate in dental surgery from Howard University. His academic work has focused on the oral health needs of underserved populations and the diversity of healthcare professionals. In 2004, he became the first Assistant Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at an American dental school and in the years since has been responsible for a nearly seven-fold increase in the percentage of dental students from underrepresented backgrounds. Dennis has previously worked as the Director of the Harlem component of the Community DentCare Network for Columbia and as Director of Research and Community Dentistry at Harlem Hospital.
For the last seven years Dennis has served in the Office of the Provost, helping to oversee the University’s now more than $185 million investment in faculty diversity. Under his leadership, our program has grown from one grounded in recruitment to one also focused on retention and professional advancement. The number of women and underrepresented minorities among tenured and untenured faculty has increased steadily, important programmatic additions have been made to faculty orientation, and new opportunities have been put in place to recognize invaluable faculty service and mentoring. Just within the last year, Dennis and his team initiated a Race and Racism cluster hire program, launched grants to fund faculty antiracism work, facilitated an anti-Black racism conference with the School of Social Work, and held events focused on the role of universities in advancing racial justice. And Dennis helped lead a University-wide review to provide recommendations on furthering our institutional commitment to antiracism. Importantly, this work is ongoing and Dennis will continue to drive it forward. For example, he will be overseeing a new Inclusive Faculty Pathways initiative within the Office of the Provost, a program designed to enhance not only our own faculty diversity, but that of academia at large by strengthening opportunities for talented, underrepresented students to advance through our graduate programs and to pursue careers in the professoriate.
As EVP for University Life, Dennis will draw upon his extensive experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion to advance the mission of University Life: to best serve the needs of Columbia’s students and to engage with them on issues of campus-wide interest and importance, including community citizenship, mental health and wellbeing, inclusion and belonging, sexual respect, and antiracism.
On behalf of all of us, I want to extend our gratitude to Dennis for taking on the important responsibilities of University Life.
Lee C. Bollinger
Dr. Mitchell via CU College of Dental Medicine