|by John McGaughey '11 • August 31, 2009|
Ever since Michael Raters ’85 was promoted from Associate Dean to Dean of Students at the beginning of the last academic year, the task of finding his replacement has proven to be difficult. Finally, Will Oprisko, an Area Coordinator from John Carroll University, has filled the position of Associate Dean of Students.
Raters was promoted last year when Athletic Director Vernon Mummert left Wabash and former Dean of Students Thomas Bambrey ’68 was asked to assume his position. An Associate Dean could not be found to replace Raters, so History Professor Richard Warner spent his sabbatical as Acting Associate Dean. Oprisko was selected and began his official duties in July.
“He was selected from a large pool of candidates,” Raters said. “He rose to the top of that pool in part because of his experience in dealing with the logistics that come with a Dean of Students position. And he’s shown a great capacity to understand and embrace the high expectations and ideals of the Gentleman’s Rule.”
President Patrick White also vouched for Oprisko’s ability to apply the Gentleman’s Rule in his daily responsibilities. “We look forward to his leadership in shaping our discourse on responsibility, wellness, the Gentleman’s Rule, and many other important aspects of campus life,” he said in a press release in June.
Oprisko supervised two residence halls at John Carroll, and had sixteen resident assistants, including two senior RA’s, serving under him. He was also a first responder in times of crisis and a student conduct hearing officer. He was responsible for student discipline, which he said was very different from the disciplinary system here at the College.
“I think it’s very clear that most colleges and universities have a very clear cut policy in the sense that not only do they reinforce and state in big bold letters that underage consumption of alcohol is a violation, but they also have clear rules about the violation itself,” Oprisko said. “Those colleges also have specific consequences, whether those are punitive or educational, to address these concerns.”
Oprisko said John Carroll imposed minimum mandatory sanctions on alcohol violations. “These violations could range from consuming and distributing alcohol to being in the presence of illegal use. If you were of age or underage, and you witnessed someone possessing or using alcohol in an illegal fashion or in a fashion against our [John Carroll’s] policies, then you were held responsible. The idea was that all students were responsible for the community in which they lived.”
Oprisko appreciates the difference in procedure here at the College, where trust and responsibility are handed down to students from the moment they arrive on campus. “From what I can tell, this results in a lot of self-monitoring. In a sense, the students are supposed to confront each other. Thus, RA’s don’t have to automatically come to me when they see an alcohol violation.”
This sort of student self-governance is novel to Oprisko. “It’s a very appealing change, because it’s unique. I’ve never seen anything like it; I’ve never heard of anything like it. The great thing is, it seems to work. It seems that students want to have that responsibility.”
Coming from a school where he handed out alcohol sanctions to becoming an administrator at a college where students govern their own behavior is an interesting transition, but Raters as faith in Oprisko’s methods.
“I think [Oprisko’s approach to alcohol discipline] is consistent with our approach,” Raters said. “You should set high expectations. Students will not meet expectations unless you set them. They will clear the bar as low as you want to set it, or try to clear the bar if you set it high. So he has high expectations of the students.”
Oprisko, who is skilled with computers, is working with Information Technology and the website team in the Advancement Department to create the alcohol survey for all incoming freshmen. “He has put a Wabash face on that survey,” Raters said.
Oprisko said his approach to discipline depends on several factors. “A lot of it depends on context,” he said. “It depends on circumstances. It depends on how the student is approaching our office. There are a lot of factors to consider.”
Oprisko wants to get away from his style of discipline at John Carroll and focus more on conversation. “I don’t want to just tell the student what to think. I want to really ask him, ‘Why are you here? Do you see what you did? Do you have a problem with it?’ So I want to engage in a deeper, more educational discipline through conversation. I want to be there to help them understand why their actions did or did not follow through with the Gentleman’s Rule.”
Oprisko is happy with the transition. “At times it feels strange, but that has more to do with me trying to hit the ground running and trying to adapt my skills, talents, and abilities. The great thing, though, is that the transition is going very easily.”
Oprisko plans to eat at Sparks, visit club meetings, and have lunch or dinner at fraternities to get to know the students and engrain himself further in Wabash’s culture. “He’s very approachable and very engaging,” Raters said. Oprisko wants students to know that he is available and interested in student life.