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Hadley’s New Handle: Dean of Students

Robyn S. Hadley
Sanjay Suchak

In the fall of 2013, students famously helped then-Dean of Students Allen W. Groves (Law ’90) set the Guinness World Record for most high-fives in an hour. They queued up on the Lawn and rapidly slapped Groves’ hand a grueling 2,470 times, a veritable carpal tunnel of love for a larger-than-life figure in a role that historically has attracted them.

Since then, Groves’ record has been displaced, and so has the old office of the dean of students. Following Groves’ departure for a senior post at Syracuse University in July 2021, UVA Student Affairs Vice President Robyn S. Hadley has merged the dean’s office with her own. The consolidated responsibility gives her the compound title of Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students.

It’s not a novel concept. The University of Texas at Austin, Clemson University and the University of Pittsburgh similarly combine the two roles in one student affairs chief.

Hadley reports to both Provost Ian Baucom and President James E. Ryan (Law ’92), and she has joined Ryan’s executive leadership circle, which includes Baucom, Chief Operating Officer Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis and UVA Health CEO Dr. K. Craig Kent. “I tell my team, I tell anyone who listens, that I think that’s probably the most valuable piece of real estate I have.”

In moving up the hierarchy, Hadley says she has delegated more responsibility to the heads of Student Affairs’ 10 newly rearranged departments, among them student housing, student health, career services, African American affairs, and the staff who work with student organizations, from the Honor and University Judiciary committees to multicultural services and Greek life. Previously, the dean managed some of those teams and the veep took charge of others.

“These individuals, we’re basically pulling them out,” she says, referring to her 10 direct reports. “We’re trying to amplify their work, give them some more agency.” She adds, “I’m also asking these individuals to be more visible.”

Hadley says Ryan first floated the idea of merging the two offices when she arrived, a time that had all the appearances of an end of an era. Hadley succeeded Patricia M. Lampkin (Educ ’86), who retired in 2021 after more than 40 years in UVA administration, the last 19 as vice president for student affairs. Groves, a Lampkin protégé, served 14 years as her dean of students. 

Hadley says she wanted to think on the idea as she got her bearings. In the academic year that followed, she installed an interim dean and undertook a several-month search for a permanent one. After the top prospect withdrew to accept a promotion at her current school, Ryan and Baucom asked Hadley to reconsider taking on the deanship with her other responsibilities. She accepted and got to work reconfiguring operations.

Said Ryan in announcing Hadley’s new role in June, “The path to this decision has been a bit circuitous, but Ian, Robyn and I are confident we’ve landed in the right place.” 

Hadley sees the model as a best-of-both-worlds way to leverage talent to serve UVA’s more than 26,000 students while still staying close to them.

“I am a very student-facing vice president,” she says, delighted when students approach her during her around-Grounds perambulations and, perhaps to varying degrees, when their laughter keeps her up at night in her pavilion on the Lawn. Still, she’s just one person.

“I need to have a lot of people who have their pulse on the student experience,” she says. She shows an organizational chart of her new reporting structure and points to it, box-by-box: “I have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 people who are in my ear, all the time.”