by Abe Asher
Charles “MO” Owens lasted ten memorable months as OES’ first Director of Residential Life in the recently revamped dorm setup, falling one month short of completing his first full school-year at OES with his departure from the school last week.
A team made up of Upper School Head Jordan Elliott, Assistant Head Deri Bash, Deans of Students Kara Tambellini and Deb Walsh, and Counselor Amanda Weber-Welch announced the news to the dorm community two Thursday nights ago, the entire Upper School was informed by Jordan the next Friday morning during Gathering.
The reasons for Owens’ departure were myriad and had built over time, but the eventual decision to part ways was, according to Jordan Elliott, at least partly mutual.
Elliott said, “MO and I worked together to reach this decision. I didn’t say this in as much detail earlier in gathering, but after we reflected on how things were going, we decided to make the change.”
“The things that he thought he was going to do in this job and the things that we wanted him to do in the dorms were different.”
The news did not come as a shock. Owens hadn’t been seen by students in the dorms or around school for almost a week and a half before his departure was announced, and tension had been building around his behavior and leadership style since early in the school year.
The timing of the decision is more surprising than the decision itself. Owens has all but vanished, without saying goodbye to any of the dorm or day students he acquainted himself with and befriended over the last year.
There were other irregularities. Because of construction, there are less apartments on campus than there used to be for dorm personnel. Owens had to live off campus, an unideal situation which will most likely continue in the future.
OES gambled in its hire of Owens last year. He’s a bombastic, outspoken, frequently headstrong character whose ability to conform and compromise were called into question early and often in his time at the school.
Elliott, however, categorically denied the rumor that Owens had spent the entire dorm budget by Christmas. Part of the confusion over the budget stemmed from the fact that OES spent the year transitioning to a new accounting system, with the Upper School and, by extension, the dorms, not getting continual updates from the business office on where they stood.
When the dorms did receive an update around Christmas on how much money they actually had, the budget had to be adjusted. MO wasn’t blamed for that, and Elliott added that there’s plenty of money for the rest of the year, saying, “students won’t notice any difference.”
There were other allegations. Several students and faculty who worked alongside him called Owens selfish, and cited an inability to acknowledge wrongdoing, finish projects, and work with others as reasons why his position quickly became untenable.
Owens volunteered as a Mock Trial coach, but often didn’t show up — or was asleep — for practice.
A member of the Mock Trial team, and Dig co-editor, Patrick M. says, “You’d get the guy going, and he wouldn’t know where to stop.” Patrick cited several instances of insensitivity surrounding gender issues, saying, “He never said anything that reflected any sort of prejudice, but there were times when he could have been more mindful of who he was talking to and his power.”
One of Owens’ most important ventures was helping to start and lead the new Black Student Union. That group will continue in Owens’ absence.
“Without him, we wouldn’t exist. He brought up issues that none of us would have brought up on our own. I’m glad he was here, and I’ll be forever thankful — but the way that it ended still hurts for us. We’ll continue on, because it isn’t about one person. It’s about the space we’ve created for OES to connect over our shared identity. That’s more powerful than any one person,” said Regina L. She added that with his departure, the leadership void can be filled by students — a net positive.
The response to Owens’ departure in the dorm community has been mostly muted. Owens was close with a few students in particular, but not the majority of the dorm community. Nut C., a prefect, senior, and member of Community Board said, “His departure was sad, but it didn’t last long. I haven’t heard anyone talking about it. We expected it. We knew that he didn’t fit into OES. We weren’t surprised that it happened.”
Owens did not respond to the Dig’s request for comment.
All around, it just wasn’t a good situation. Owens has a unique skill-set, but one that wasn’t well-suited to the job he held — a job that he didn’t feel wasn’t exactly what it had been billed as.
Leaving now, as opposed to at the end of the school-year in June, gives Owens more time to try to find his next opportunity before the start of the 2015-16 school-year.
Personally, I enjoyed spending time with MO. Though we had limited interaction, I found him to be funny and a breath of fresh air. He was decidedly different and he liked that. I liked that he liked that.
He certainly liked to toe the line. Jordan said in hiring him, “I didn’t feel that MO was a risk, at least beyond what you would expect,” but it quickly became clear that things weren’t going exactly as either party had imagined they would. Jordan has taken over as the interim Director of Residential Life until the end of the year, when the next Director will be brought in.
The hiring committee for the dorms is comprised by Elliott of people on the leadership team, and people close to the dorms, like the counselor, dorm parents, and the nurse.
The process has not started formally yet, but Elliott has a rough idea of what he’s looking for in the next Director. “The capacity of the program to take a risk is less than it was last time.” A focus remains on diversity in hiring faculty, especially for the dorms — a community Jordan described as the most multi-culturally diverse on campus. “A big initiative is to hire a more diverse faculty and staff. That can manifest in a number of ways.”
The pressure is certainly on for the next hire. The last one, as it became apparent, needed to move on. It’s happy trails to MO, and for OES, another rebuild in the dorm community.