Updated as of May 18 at 3:21 p.m. to include comment from Dean Gaither.
Kenn Gaither has been named the next dean of Elon University’s School of Communications. After working at the university for 19 years and serving as the interim dean for the past eight months, Gaither will begin the role June 1.
According to Gaither, when he first came to Elon nearly two decades ago, becoming a dean was never a thought in his mind, until being asked to serve as the interim dean after former Dean Rochelle Ford left.
“I love teaching so much, so when I was asked to become associate dean, I was happy to do that because I could still teach,” Gaither said. “Associate deans at Elon teach. I didn't want to be a dean because I didn't want to be out of the classroom.”
Now that he has gotten the position, Gaither said he is excited and honored to continue to lead the school of communications.
“It’s strange because I've been in this role for the last year, but when you have interim in front of your name, it doesn't quite have the same weight,” Gaither said. “In a lot of ways it's doing the work that we've started, but now I feel like I'm on solid ground to affect change in hopefully really positive and meaningful ways.”
Moving forward, Gaither said the two biggest challenges he intends to focus on in the next academic year are the launching of the school’s new communications curriculum and preparing the school for reaccreditation.
Gaither said that during the accreditation process, in which private organizations review and ensure a standard of higher education, the “site team” looks at every fine detail of the school — including retention, diversity assessment, facilities, standard students and faculty research.
“The last time the site team came to the university, they said that they could find nothing in the school of communications that rose to the level of a weakness,” Gaither said. “That is phenomenal. I wish I could say I completely agree with that, but like any school, we have our weaknesses. But that's the standard that we're going to be striving for.”
Outside of those two challenges, Gaither also said he intends to continue to focus on changing and fostering a culture of community and togetherness.
“We've made some steps, but it's a work in progress. And one of the things I explained in talking about culture, is you don't change culture overnight. It takes time,” Gaither said. “As we've gotten bigger, I want to retain that which makes us special. And it's the relationships — it’s getting to know the students — and I think part of the Dean's role is to be visible.”
In addition to his roughly two decades at Elon — during which he was an associate dean for 10 years — Gaither served most recently as President and Chief Executive Officer for the Institute for Shipboard Education in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He also started his career in the ’90s as a project manager and senior account executive for William J. Green & Associates — a public affairs and communications counseling agency in Pittsburgh — and later transitioned to director of public Relations and marketing for élan communications, also located in Pittsburgh.
During his dean candidate presentation, Gaither said during his candidate presentation that he leads through his four C’s: communication, collaboration, culture and community.
“I have also told the faculty and staff not to trust me. I have to work to build that trust each and every day,” Gaither said. “I think trust comes in with listening, and those are the things that I like to bring into the difficult conversations that we have to have as a school of communication and at the larger university level.”
In reflecting on his new position, Gaither credits the deans of the school of communications that came before him, including Founding Dean Paul Parsons who expanded Elon’s communications field from a department to a school.
“This is a tremendous honor. And anytime you become a dean, you recognize that you stand on the shoulders of those who came before you,” Gaither said. “'I’m very fortunate to stand on their shoulders, and our goal is always to think about what comes next and make sure that we are doing the very best we can to meet our students’ needs and prepare them.”
Though he will be focused on administration responsibilities, Gaither said he will still do the Holocaust journey course over winter term and hopes to teach courses in strategic communications once he’s gotten adjusted to the new role.
“For me, it's always been about teaching. I love to be in the classroom. That's where I want to be. But finally, I had to make a decision. Is it going to be administration or teaching? And now I'm leaning a little bit more towards administration, but I'll still be doing some teaching,” Gaither said. “There's just something magical about being in the classroom, and I never take that for granted.”
Sarah Moore contributed to reporting for this story.