URI's modest mover-and-shaker Fran Cohen
is named dean of students
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 6, 1999 -- If you want something done, turn to
Fran Cohen"or so goes the prevailing wisdom at the University of Rhode
Island. Just don,t expect her to take credit for it afterwards.
"It's not me, she says, when asked about her can-do reputation.
"It's a matter of knowing who to call on campus.
Cohen is familiar with every level of the University. She first arrived
at URI as a secretary in the student life office in 1971, and gradually
worked her way up through the ranks. A single mother raising two daughters,
she somehow managed to take classes part-time while working full-time. Ten
years later, she graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
The experience left her with an ongoing appreciation of the variety of life
experiences that students have beyond the classroom, and that in turn has
informed her work as an administrator.
Recently, President Robert L. Carothers named her dean of students"a
significant job title change that recognizes her impact on the university
community. "This change more accurately reflects the role which Fran
plays in campus life, says President Carothers. "Fran has been an outstanding
advocate for students, while she has also been an important leader in our
efforts to make this the culture for learning to which we aspire.
Cohen sees the change as an endorsement of the work done by the Office
of Student Life. "Being named dean is a recognition that this office
plays a big role in students, learning experience. Classes may take only
15 hours of a student's week, Cohen says. "So much learning that a
student does is outside of the classroom.
The Office of Student Life could be considered the community-builder
on campus. It seeks to integrate classroom learning with other aspects of
student life. The office is responsible for disability services, programs
for international students and scholars, off-campus housing and the commuter
center, student discipline, substance abuse prevention programs, violence
prevention, services for independent students, and the Women's Center.
Cohen majored in Anthropology, and she says that training, which has
helped her to appreciate and communicate with different cultures, has been
useful in interacting with students from different backgrounds. "We
in student affairs are not just campus housekeepers, she points out. "That's
an old fashioned notion. We are educators.
Colleagues give Cohen rave reviews. "Students tell me they feel
better after talking with her, says Tom Dougan, assistant vice president
of campus life and student affairs. "Fran has an amazing work ethic
and puts in enormous amounts of time on behalf of the students and the University.
"She's an outstanding administrator, says Beverly Swan, provost
and vice president of academic affairs. "She's supportive of students
both inside and outside the classroom.
Stories abound about her ability to get things done. Take the Women's
Center. About 18 years ago, determined to provide URI's female students
with what Virginia Woolf called "a room of one's own, Cohen convinced
the University to donate a vacant farmhouse on campus. The plumbing and
electricity were outdated, and parts of the ceiling had fallen in, but Cohen
saw potential. She organized volunteers, gained $10,000 in funding from
the Rhode Island Foundation, and transformed a derelict building into a
haven for URI's women students.
Then there was the massive flower bulb planting to celebrate URI's centennial
in 1992. Cohen oversaw 300 volunteers who spread out over campus to plant
36,000 bulbs so that daffodils, hyacinth and crocuses would grace the campus
"It was like the National Guard being deployed, Cohen says now.
"It was amazing. I still think of her whenever I see the daffodils
bloom, says Jim Campbell, director of URI's Counseling Center. Campbell
has worked with Cohen on a variety of issues, including diversity, mental
health and substance abuse. "She's very effective at motivating students
and staff, he says.
Chip Yensan, director of the Office of Residential Life, points out her
contributions to the URI Cornerstones"a statement of the University's
values. "Fran is a naturally collaborative colleague, Yensan says.
"It seems as if she is involved in almost every major initiative on
campus, leading some of us to wonder how she is able to add an extra 10
hours to her day!
Cohen is clear about her priorities. "I don,t work for the state
of Rhode Island. I don,t work for the administration, says Cohen. "I
work for the students.
For more information: Ann MacDonald, 874-2116