Whether it’s attending meetings with SAFAC, eating lunch with commuter students while they voice their concerns about the University or taking her daughter to International Week, Dr. Pat Whitely’s life is anything but ordinary.
“Every day is different. No two days are ever the same,” Whitely said.
The Miami Hurricane was fortunate to be able to spend the day with Dr. Whitely and see what it means to be vice president for Student Affairs at UM.
“The job is intellectually and politically challenging,” Whitely said. “It’s fun, too. I like working with the students.”
The day began with a campus climate meeting, which is held every six weeks. It allows a variety of offices ranging from Public Safety to the Counseling Center to Multicultural Student Affairs to meet and discuss the climate of the campus.
“There is no agenda – we just have a round-table discussion,” Whitely said.
During the meeting, issues that affect students, such as Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS], housing, crime rates and the job market were discussed.
“The campus climate meeting allows us to know what is going on elsewhere on campus,” Whitely said.
Next on the agenda was a luncheon with ten commuter students at the Rat.
“Meetings like this allow me to get an idea of the issues that commuter students are facing,” Whitely said.
Whitely told the commuters her own story of being a commuter throughout her schooling at St. John’s University in New York, where she majored in management with minors in economics and theology.
“I didn’t even have my license until two weeks before I started school. For the first two weeks, when I drove the Long Island Expressway I never changed lanes because I was too scared,” Whitely said. “But then I got the hang of it and it made my commute a lot faster.”
Some of the issues brought to Whitely’s attention included the success of the parking improvements, curiosity about University Village and pre-med advising.
The commuters also thanked Whitely for her open-door policy and constant contact with students.
“I try to be a good role model. Hopefully I’m seen as down to earth,” Whitely said. “I try not to be someone who hides behind the position.”
However, Whitely does have her critics.
“Some people say I’m unapproachable or shy, but I’d say I’m focused,” Whitely said. “I’m not big on small talk – I’m better one-on-one.”
In order to be the role model that she hopes to be, Whitely has to manage all of her commitments.
“I try not to have a really busy day. I try to be in my office as much as possible,” Whitely said.
Following the commuter student luncheon, Whitely met with a representative from Brandeis University who is doing research on Jewish student life with various university campuses.
Then it was time to meet with Richard Walker, director of Student Life and the University Center [UC]. Currently, Whitely is in charge of 15 separate departments, including Residence Halls, Multicultural Student Affairs and Wellness and Recreation.
“In addition to working with students, I work as a motivator for a team of 15 people,” Whitely said.
During her meeting with Walker, Whitely discussed possible changes in the UC and the proofing of programs for an upcoming event, as well as the hiring of new employees and creation of new positions within student life.
“We try and meet once a month and talk via email a couple of times a day,” Whitely said.
Following her meeting with Walker, Dr. Whitely then had some time to check her voicemail and email, make a couple of telephone calls and read through a stack of invitations.
“See, that’s another thing I have to do: say No,” Whitely said.
Whitely frequently receives invitations to UM affiliated events, both on and off campus. She typically will turn down off-campus events because it takes her away from the students.
“I try not to travel much, especially at he beginning and ends of the semesters because that’s when I’m needed most,” Whitely said.
In her spare time Whitely enjoys working out and playing racquetball.
“Exercise is important because the better that I take care of myself, the more energy I have, which helps me do my job better,” Whitely said.
She is also family oriented. The oldest of seven children, Whitely has eight nieces and nephews. She lives with her husband, daughter and father in Coconut Grove.
Next on the agenda was an interview with another Hurricane reporter to discuss mental health on campus.
“We try to make sure that our services meet the demands of the students,” Whitely said.
With the position comes a lot of power, including being the chief appellate officer for the University.
“A lot of what I do is make good decisions for the students,” Whitely said. “There is a lot of problem solving in the job. I like being the person who could potentially sway a decision. I like being able to push the straw a little bit more.”
Whitely deals with problems that occur throughout the campus.
“I work on the culture and climate of the University as well as with fundraising and the trustees,” Whitely said. “I’m responsible for everything outside of the classroom. I help support the academic goals of the institution.”
The next meeting Whitely had was with SAFAC, to discuss problems or concerns that they have had in allocating the student activity fee to various student organizations.
The Miami Hurricane’s day with Dr. Whitely ended with that meeting, but she went on to work out before attending the Student Government [SG] Banquet for outgoing SG members.
Despite the busy and often hectic days, Whitely enjoys every minute.
“I’m a Hurricane and I’m proud to be one,” Whitely said.
Leigha Taber can be contacted at email@example.com.