All College
Associate Dean J. John Baer and Dean Michael J. Letteney
Associate Dean J. John Baer and Dean Michael J. Letteney


Over the summer, Dr. Michael J. Letteney succeeded Dr. John J. Goyette as dean of Thomas Aquinas College, California, granting Dr. Goyette a well-deserved reprieve after six highly eventful years of service.

Although Dr. Goyette was forced to spend much of his term steering the College through natural disaster, the acquisition of the New England campus, and a global pandemic, Dr. Letteney points out the dean’s principal function is and remains academic. “It’s my job to ensure that the program is being executed well, that students are recruited to fill the classrooms, and that they are given the tools they need, from Matriculation to Commencement,” he says.

Given the breadth of those responsibilities, the College has instituted a new position, the associate dean for academic affairs, now held by J. John Baer. “The dean’s position had grown over the years,” Mr. Baer explains. “It was really more than we wanted to put on the shoulders of one person, considering that we want the dean to still be a tutor in the classroom and have a family life.”

“The dean’s position had grown over the years. It was really more than we wanted to put on the shoulders of one person.”

Thanks to this “divide and conquer” strategy, both men can carry out their new responsibilities while continuing to teach. As dean, Dr. Letteney joins the Board of Governors and reports to Dr. Paul J. O’Reilly, president of the College, on academic matters. He also consults with Dr. Travis Cooper, the assistant dean for student affairs, on matters related to campus life. As associate dean, meanwhile, Mr. Baer tackles more concrete administrative matters, including oversight of the bookstore and library, as well as the career and counseling office.

The distinction between their roles, however, will not preclude the dean and associate dean from working in tandem on numerous issues. Says Mr. Baer, “It’s a cooperative venture.”

New England

Dr. Stephen Shivone
Dr. Stephen Shivone

Having completed his four-year term as the first assistant dean of Thomas Aquinas College, New England — an enormous task during the establishment of the new campus — Dr. Patrick Gardner gratefully returned this year to fulltime teaching. Assuming his responsibilities as assistant dean is Dr. Stephen F. Shivone, who joined the California teaching faculty in 2017 before heading east in 2019.

Both the dean and assistant dean look after the welfare of the College, but the latter does so “by focusing on the direction of student life and formation of student culture,” explains Dr. Shivone. Because the assistant dean discusses the College’s rules of residence every year at freshman orientation, students sometimes identify this “formation” with mere rule enforcement. The reality, of course, is far more nuanced.

“My role is to ensure that the students are doing well here and living lives that are conducive to the pursuit of wisdom,” says Dr. Shivone. To that end, he works closely with the chaplains to ensure that students’ spiritual needs are met and regularly consults with the residential directors and student prefects to gauge campus morale. In these and countless other ways, he acts as the custodian of a Catholic and intellectual campus culture.

“My role is to ensure that the students are doing well here and living lives that are conducive to the pursuit of wisdom.”

Dr. Shivone sees his disciplinary role only within this wider, custodial context. “The rules are like guardian angels: They ‘light and guard and rule and guide’,” he says. “I don’t think that, left to themselves, most people would be able to live this sort of life without the direction and guidance of rules.” Even so, he adds, enforcing such rules requires prudence: “You have to be wary of legalism and of treating students as if they are younger than they are, not capable of making their own good judgments.”

This new administrative role is not a first for Dr. Shivone, who previously served as the assistant dean for academic affairs at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. Experience notwithstanding, his new position will nonetheless have its challenges. Fortunately for this father of five, there are resonances aplenty between his duties as assistant dean and those he fulfills every day at home. From enforcing rules to the humbler task of approving campus movie nights, says Dr. Shivone, “it’s like the assistant dean becomes the dad of the campus.”