Texas A&M University-San Antonio met Dr. Zeak Naifeh, the last of four finalists for associate vice president and dean of students, at a student forum on Nov. 19. Naifeh has served as dean of students at Cameron University for six years. He’s been at the university for 15 years.
The hiring process for Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Texas A&M-San Antonio began in August. There is an eight-member search committee. Two are students. Committee members went through implicit bias training. They worked with an executive search firm and narrowed the candidates from ninety-nine to four. All the candidates visited the A&M-San Antonio campus. Students were invited to meet them and provide feedback. A final decision is expected this week or the following week, according to Dr. Adriana Contreras, chair of the search committee.
Biology freshman Andrea Martinez: “I’m a part of SGA, how would you help us resolve conflict between students and faculty or whatever comes up in that area.”
Naifeh: “I believe it’s really easy to kick someone when you don’t know them. If I don’t know you, I can talk about you all I want. What I see my role is when we have conflict, I put people in the same space. I need you to get to know each other. When you know each other, you start understanding where you’re coming from. And when you start knowing that piece of it, you’re more likely to work…
I really try to build that relationship so that people know where everyone is coming from. Everyone’s on the same page. It’s a lot easier to say I know where you’re coming from. We don’t have to believe the same thing, that’s fine, but we can get along civilly about it…
How do we have those conversations with students and educate back and forth to resolve conflict so we can grow from it? If you continue to push and hate them without even meeting them, you’re never going to educate them. They’ve now put a wall up and never going to listen to you. You need to be firm in what you believe, in how you make changes and also not alienate people enough that we can’t change their view to educate them.”
“We cannot grow without supporting student’s needs. If you grow beyond being able to support, then you have a whole bunch of students who are not engaged, not connected and potentially not successful academically.”
Communications senior Chemeckia Caddell: “Why Texas A&M University-San Antonio and what makes you the best candidate besides experience and education?”
Naifeh: “As I look at Texas A&M-San Antonio, great community, great growing campus and a unique opportunity to do a lot of things. You want to talk about growing pains? I’ve gone through growing pains when I first started at Cameron. Am I comfortable at my job, yes. Am I ready to grow and push beyond and try unique opportunities, one hundred percent? As I talk to colleagues who live in this area, who work in the A&M System, their views made me look at this job a little more. As I’ve now talked to people even further, having growing pains is a great problem to have. How do we grow services and do all these things in a new environment?”
Accounting junior Kirstan Garcia: “How can you have a more personable presence on campus, that way, you can be that buffer between administration and students.”
Naifeh: “That is kind of what I do in my current role, is a buffer. For instance, student government, I co-advise student government now. We meet every week as executive officers. We have that conversation, what is the goal student government is trying to do. How does that interact with administration so we can play that buffer of trying to piece between, how can you be successful and getting what you need. Also, the administration has a voice too, kind of how we work those in. When I first became dean, I had never lived on campus. I lived in the same town I went to undergrad in. I didn’t have housing experience. I lived on the campus for a semester in the traditional dorms so I could: understand, get involved, get to know students and understand what that experience was. I do a lot of those things now. How do you connect with students in the spaces they’re at? If that means: staying late to go to meetings, going to events and talk, if that means getting up early in the morning. I had a group that we used to meet at 7:30 a.m. Is that my favorite time, no. But did we meet, yes. For me it’s more about: getting engaged with students in all those areas and understanding what their concerns are and interfacing that with administration. When we meet with administration, I’ll tell them here’s the things that I’m hearing. That is the role of the dean of students is to pass that information along from me interacting with students in those spaces and passing along what you’re hearing on how to make those kinds of changes.”