Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon to become Duke University’s Vice Provost of Campus Life

Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon teaches her ExCollege course "Hamilton: In Context" on Jan. 24, 2018. (Evan Sayles/The Tufts Daily Archives)

Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, who has been at Tufts since 2014, will leave in July to become Vice Provost and Vice President of Campus Life at Duke University, according to an email sent to the student body. In her new position, she will direct campus life across the undergraduate and graduate student bodies.

In an interview with the Daily, McMahon explained that she is excited by the new position, which has a much broader scope than the position she currently holds at Tufts, where she has primarily directed student affairs at the undergraduate level.

“I am very excited about the interdisciplinary nature of Duke’s structure and academic experience,” McMahon said. “The students and faculty that I met on the committee are very interested in thinking about ways to holistically build an undergraduate and graduate education that factors in all the different experiences people have.”

Throughout her five years at Tufts, McMahon has worked with a wide range of campus organizations and contributed to various projects across the university.

McMahon described the impact of the Student Life Review Committee (SLRC) that she helped to form in the spring of 2017 after University President Anthony Monaco commissioned it in 2016.

“[The SLRC was] a trustee-led committee that took a broad, sweeping assessment of life outside the classroom for undergraduates, including Greek life, campus organizations, the centers, code of conduct, residential life and accessibility,” McMahon said.

McMahon also discussed the SLRC’s new resources and programs for students, ranging from first-year housing to additional support systems.

“[The SLRC] is how we got to the first generation resource center … that’s how we got to the plan for first-year residence halls,” she said, referring to the 2018 establishment of the FIRST Resource Center and the 2017 consolidation of first-year housing.

McMahon recalled creating the Division of Student Affairs office in 2016 as well as commissioning the Supporting Undocumented Students Task Force and Equity, Access, and Student Equality organizations, which work to lower barriers to the student experience for undocumented and low-income, first-generation students.

She added that building a partnership with athletics was one of her most important accomplishments during her time at Tufts.

McMahon expressed gratitude for being able to work with students on several projects to find solutions to problems.

“I really appreciated having the chance to work with student activists on places where we could find common ground and have positive change on campus,” McMahon said. “In the fall this year, people protested the code of conduct policy, and I’m proud of the fact that we were able to sit down with those students and find a solution,” she said.

McMahon also recalled that one of her favorite memories at Tufts was working with Miguel Rodriguez Santos (LA ’18) to teach a course called “Hamilton: In Context,” focusing on the musical Hamilton (2016), as well as witnessing the candlelight ceremony the night before graduation for the first time.

“The first year I got to go and see … that concept of the light on the hill and the physical manifestation of that on orientation and then again on graduation … It helped me really understand that Tufts is really a special place,” McMahon said.

During her time at Tufts, McMahon has worked with a wide range of campus and student organizations, including the Tisch College of Civic Life, the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL), Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate, Tufts University Social Collective (TUSC) and Leonard Carmichael Society (LCS).

Members from each of these organizations spoke to McMahon’s commitment to improving campus life and supporting students.  

On behalf of TUSC, rising juniors Lea Pensoy and Noah Brown noted the support from McMahon with regard to social events on campus during her tenure, in an email to the Daily.

“Over the past year, TUSC has seen a consistent increase in attendance at events, with many of our smaller scale events attracting over 300 people. There is no question that our success this year would not have been possible without Dean McMahon’s enthusiastic assistance,” Pensoy and Brown said.

TCU Senate President Jacqueline Chen added that McMahon has worked closely with TCU Senate on a number of initiatives. In an email to the Daily, Chen, a graduating senior, outlined McMahon’s involvement in some of those projects.

“She has supported initiatives such as the TCU Senate Textbook Exchange, the SLUSH Fund, and the removal of beds from the Asian American Center so that it could become a more welcoming community space,” Chen said.

Chen added that McMahon helped TCU Senate achieve some of its goals in more subtle ways.

“These are more tangible projects, but she also has helped us incrementally work towards policy goals such as town halls on budget transparency and mental health, and working on exceptions to the residency requirement for students with extenuating circumstances,” she said.  

Chen also praised McMahon’s advocacy for students during her tenure at Tufts.

“She is always willing to meet one on one to talk about projects to better student life that we’re passionate about, and has been a consistent advocate to administrators we don’t normally interact with in order to ensure that student perspectives are in the room,” Chen said. “[She] has been an exceptional advocate for students at a school where it is not customary to incorporate student voice into decision making.”

Joshua Hartman, director of the ORLL, praised McMahon’s commitment to improving student life in an email to the Daily.

“Her commitment to deepening the levels of engagement within the residential community has been evidenced by her successful efforts to advocate for reimagined spaces for first-year students (including multiple building renovations and upgrades), enhancing the levels of support within the [ORLL] through increasing the number of student staff members in the department, and intentionally connecting the new student orientation experience with the residential communities,” he said.  

Additionally, Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont praised McMahon’s support for civic-oriented events and programs across campus, in an email to the Daily.

“[McMahon] has meaningfully contributed to every aspect of life on this campus, and this includes expanding opportunities for civic engagement, political participation, and dialogue across difference,” Solomont said.

Solomont also highlighted McMahon’s involvement in seeing through programs and projects at Tisch College.

“At Tisch College, we have greatly appreciated her strong partnership on many initiatives including our Distinguished Speaker Series, Civic Life Lunches, orientation programming, the new Tufts Civic Semester global program, and our efforts to embed civic learning across departments and in co-curricular activities across the university,” he said.

Solomont expressed his hopes for McMahon’s success following her departure from Tufts.

“While we are sad to see Dean Mary Pat move on from Tufts, we are not surprised that she has a new opportunity to greatly influence campus life – and civic life – in American higher education. On behalf of everyone at Tisch College, we wish her all the best,” Solomont said.

Co-President of the LCS Alex Lein noted how deeply McMahon has impacted the organization and Tufts students as a whole.

“Mary Pat has been a huge source of support for [LCS], both on a personal and organizational level. She’s helped us out financially, in terms of supporting our events and initiatives, and she’s also just been a consistent voice of input and insight into the progress of the organization and where to take things,” Lein, a rising junior, said.

In the email to the university, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu praised the legacy that McMahon’s commitment to students and vision for the university will leave.

Glaser echoed this sentiment in an email to the Daily, saying that McMahon improved Tufts as a whole.

“Dean McMahon has brought vision, vigor, and an extraordinary understanding of current student and university issues to her role here. She’s done an exceptional job and has been an outstanding partner to me, to her colleagues in AS&E, and to university leadership,” the email read. “We’re a better university because of her.”

McMahon expressed that she will greatly miss working with Tufts students.

“It probably sounds like a cliche, but I will absolutely miss Tufts students and the team at Student Affairs,” she said. “I’ve been so impressed at Tufts students’ resourcefulness and incredible dedication to making this place better, and [their] willingness to get in the mix on a hard conversation [or] on a persistent challenge and tell me something I may not necessarily already know or want to hear,” McMahon said.

McMahon also acknowledged the role of the student affairs team and Tufts faculty in her success.

“The student affairs team is an incredibly dedicated group of people. I do want people to know that [it goes] above and beyond to support the student experience here and commit to students’ individual growth and well being,” McMahon told the Daily. “I will always be inspired by my colleagues from Tufts.”


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