Student welfare is a priority for a new campus director.
Jon Shaffer, who assumed the position of University Housing director in September, has 20 years of experience working in university housing and other affairs at universities. In his new position at SIU, he oversees everything regarding campus living, including residence halls, apartments, dining halls and all of those departments’ staff.
“I really appreciated my welcome here,” he said. “It’s indicative of the people that are here, they’re very welcoming, very willing to listen to new ideas that I have and they’re very patient with me. It really is the people that have made my start here what it is. That’s been across the department and throughout the university, everyone that I run into has been very welcoming and very willing to help.”
Shaffer said he learned about the position from former director Julie Payne-Kirchmeier. He said the field of university affairs is often a small group, and it’s normal for colleagues to recommend positions for one another.
“I inherited a very healthy program, and I’m very pleased with the way things have been done,” he said. “It makes my job easier to come in and pick up where they left off and make sure we maintain that commitment to making the halls and the dining units as great as they can be. I want to make sure the departments are complementing each other, and that comes from having great staff, which I certainly have.”
Shaffer holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Western Michigan University, a master’s degree in student personnel administration from James Madison University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Northern Michigan University. Shaffer said he has been involved in student housing at every point of his academic career.
Chancellor Rita Cheng said she is happy to have Shaffer join SIU.
“Jon has many years of experience in residential life and is focused on providing undergraduate students with a safe and secure environment in which they can excel,” she said. “He is collaborative and is already working with many others across campus to enhance student life on campus.”
Shaffer said the diversity of his job is what makes it so great because the position encompasses several aspects of campus life.
“What I’m dealing with on any given hour of any given day could be something to do with dining or with the residence halls, from a faculty’s perspective, or student behavior, and of course safety and security is always one of our primary concerns,” he said. “The job of someone like me is to kind of maintain that big picture view, to make sure all those pieces of the puzzle are fitting together nicely and working well together and complementing each other.”
Lisa Marks, associate director of University Housing, said she thinks Shaffer is the perfect choice for the position.
“He began by quickly developing a sense of the campus climate and connecting with the students we serve,” she said. “I’ve heard him use the quote, ‘Do the right thing for the right reason every time.’ It’s very apparent that this embodies his approach to his new position.”
Shaffer said he immersed himself in how students do things on campus in order to do his job proficiently.
“I’ve spent these first couple months here really assessing how we do things, and it is a big system to learn and I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know it, but I have been very pleased so far with our efforts that we’re doing, especially in terms of safety and security,” he said.
Shaffer said he thinks some people tend to view the university as unsafe, but the way security is run in university buildings is advanced compared to other universities.
“I don’t think that our campus is any less safe,” he said. “In fact, I know that it isn’t any less safe, but it shows our dedication of making sure that our students feel secure in their environment and just reducing the opportunities for bad things to occur and I think that that’s reflected. Maybe there was a time in the past that SIU’s campus earned that reputation, but it certainly isn’t warranted anymore.”
Shaffer said he wants to make sure the communities and residence halls are very positive and welcoming and students take care of each other because University Housing operates solely on money collected from room and board.
“We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what we can’t do. We focus more on what we can do and making things the best they can be,” he said.
The University Housing budget is determined every year based on an estimate of how many students will live on campus. Shaffer said, the estimate fell a little short this year, which required a $2 million budget cut.
“Our students are very savvy about the services they expect, and it’s our job to provide it,” he said. “We’re always going to do what we need to do to make sure that we’re putting the best product out there for our students.”
Shaffer said the hardest part of his position has been being away from his family. His wife and two sons still live in Michigan, while his oldest son is finishing his senior year of high school.