Someone You Should Know: Douglas Eck

By Charles Rahn, Contributing Writer

Douglas Eck wrapped up his first school year at Columbia last month as dean of students. Charles Rahn

Dean of Students Douglas Eck has had more than 20 years of experience working at several other universities and colleges such as the University of Houston as the assistant dean of students and as the associate director of Residence Life for Training & Selection at Lake Forest College. He started at Columbia in September 2021.

The Chronicle: Since you are relatively new to Columbia after starting this past September, how would you describe yourself to Columbia students as well as parents and fellow faculty?

As the Dean of Students my job is to work behind the scenes to make sure our different offices of support are functioning at their best and also to make sure students, faculty and family know how to access those services that we have. I want to have my pulse on the student experience to know what’s working well and what isn’t. College is tough and so is the world; put those together and life is often times really tough. I help to make sure they know how to get the help to make their lives easier.

What about Columbia made you want to come here and become the dean of students?

I began my career in higher education working on my undergraduate degree. Back when I was in undergrad, I was involved in student activities orientation, I was an RA; that was kind of my exposure into student affairs and then I went to graduate school at Ohio State. Afterwards I got my master’s degree in student affairs and spent some time there working in housing. I went up to Lake Forest College just north of here serving as Associate Director of Residence Life for Training and Selection. After a while I got tired of winter and flew south, literally, down to Houston at the University of Houston and so I kind of stepped back into the public institution sphere where I was an assistant dean of students.

After earning my doctorate degree in education leadership from City University of Seattle in 2020 my job search went into figuring out what was next for me. So, I had to figure out how I was going to position myself to take on the next level of responsibility. Then the opportunity arose to return to Illinois, my home state, and come to Chicago, which is my favorite city in the nation, and work at a school that was a great mix between the smaller and larger schools that I was used to. Then after meeting the different staff here and being blown away, all the right factors really drew me in.

What is something that you have enjoyed or really liked so far while being here at Columbia?

I think that Columbia’s approach to the pandemic has really been far above what a lot of institutions are doing right. When I was coming from Texas to Illinois, I saw both sides of the spectrum of how the pandemic was handled. So being able to still be in touch with my colleagues back there and understand what the student experience is like there to understanding what student experience here is like; it’s really different. 

I think that speaks volumes about the leadership that the folks here are committed to — making sure that students are successful within the limitations that we have within the realities that we have. That’s really, really exciting. And just the students that I’ve gotten to meet, they’re so freakin’ creative, right? 

Like I don’t have an ounce of creativity in my left hand, so when I see students drawing; when I see students engaging in acting and theatre and these performances and dance, it just blows my mind that they have that talent, but more importantly, that we can make sure that they hone in on that, and can craft their arcs so they can take what they are passionate about, and hopefully launch into a really successful career.

As the dean of students, what are your main responsibilities?

I work with our Residence Life team, so I support the residential operations teams that manage our four leased residence halls; Arc, 30. East, Dwight, and the Columbia students at the University Center. I work with our student health and support team, like student relations, the services for students with disabilities office, our Student Health Center and Counseling Services office; then I also work with our Title IX officers.

So, making sure that all operations are running smoothly that they’re able to tackle challenges, bringing their problems and concerns to my attention, that I can strategize solutions. I also work with the academic side, like the provost’s office, the different department chairs, different academic deans and the student life arm. The student affairs organization is also very important to our success.

What is something, or multiple things that excite you about working at Columbia?

The staff across the institution, I’ve just met just some of the kindest, the most caring, thoughtful, and engaged individuals, folks that are really committed to students. I have found in my career, that makes or breaks a good student affairs operation. If you have professionals that are just punching in and out and only doing some work, they’re not really invested in the lives and the experiences of students. But here we’re really committed, they really want students to succeed.

What are some of the most important issues you see confronting students since you came to Columbia?

We’re going to be dealing with the after effects of the pandemic for years. I think how we have become so isolated and now we are starting to reemerge. On top of that nearly half of our student population hasn’t had a traditional college experience due to the pandemic. An issue that keeps me up at night is mental health. Students are dealing with anxiety, they’re dealing with depression, they’re dealing with other illnesses and so being able to support them on a college campus is important. 

Mental health services across the nation across the world are in such high demand. I want to find a way to make sure that students get back into a position of being able to feel comfortable, engaging, and confronting their peers respectfully.