The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Vice President of Student Life E. Royster Harper, is retiring from the University of Michigan after 20 years in her current position.
In an email to the University community Thursday morning, Harper announced her retirement, which will be effective at the beginning of the Winter 2020 semester. She cited wanting to spend more time with her family and enjoying other life pursuits as the reason for her retirement.
“I read a statement recently that said, ‘Life is too precious to be anything but deeply alive in it.’ For me that means moving from my current role that I have cherished over these past 20 years, and spending more time with my family and life’s other pursuits,” Harper wrote. “Thus, it is with deep gratitude that I am announcing my retirement, effective Jan. 17, 2020. While this was an incredibly difficult decision to make, I am ready and excited for this next adventure.”
As vice president of Student Life, Harper works closely with several student organizations such as Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Fraternity & Sorority Life and the Trotter Multicultural Center.
In an email statement, University President Mark Schlissel thanked Harper for her service with the broader Michigan community for the past two decades.
“During the five years I have known her, I’ve been continually impressed by her thoughtful and innovative leadership on important issues,” Schlissel wrote. “In particular, she has spent all of her time at U-M working to improve the student experience, particularly for those who are underrepresented, and she has led groundbreaking sexual misconduct prevention efforts and empowered survivors to report, recover, and seek justice.”
Faculty and student leaders on campus who have previously worked with Harper describe her commitment to prioritizing student voices. Julio Cardona, director of the Trotter Multicultural Center, detailed how Harper’s dedication to the University’s student body has spanned over her decades of service.
“Dr. Harper has committed her career to making a positive difference in the lives of generations of U-M students,” Cardona said. “Dr. Harper has done this through an innovative student-centered approach that has been modeled at other higher education institutions throughout the nation.”
Panhellenic Association president Taylor Fegan, LSA senior, said working with Harper on FSL matters was a privilege.
“Working with VP Royster Harper has been one of the best aspects of my term as president,” Fegan said. “She is dedicated, kind and one of the biggest student supporters on campus. In working with her, it is so clearly apparent that she loves the University of Michigan, but more importantly she loves the University of Michigan students.”
Izzy Baer, former vice president of Central Student Government, echoed those sentiments as she looks back fondly on her time working with Harper.
“(Harper) made herself extremely accessible to the CSG executive team through our term,” Baer said. “More so, Royster always ensured that student decisions and actions were autonomous, she worked hard to advocate and advise, while always maintaining student voices.”
Harper was also known for being a champion of diversity. She helped create the new Trotter Center on Central Campus and is on the executive board of the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP.
Baer said Harper’s commitment to equity and inclusion made a mark on the University.
“Her commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus reverberated to every corner of campus,” Baer said. “I hope to see the new VP prioritize revising our sexual misconduct policy, expanding mental health resources on campus and continuing Royster’s legacy with a commitment to DEI."
Cardona also discussed how having a vice president of Student Life who prioritizes diversity is essential.
“A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority for the University of Michigan. As such, it is important to continue the work of Dr. Harper and other leaders across the campus of supporting all students in intentional ways as part of our efforts to foster an inclusive campus climate,” Cardona told The Daily. “Additionally, it is important that all members of the U of M community, including those who are underrepresented, are provided equal opportunities to thrive and excel.”
Along with student organizations, Harper oversaw the University Health Service. Earlier this month, Harper, along with other administrators, responded to the student backlash over an added fee for testing for sexually transmitted infections. The University then reversed its policy after students created an online petition demanding the University eliminate STI testing fees.
“You have helped us understand just how important it is to maintain confidentiality in this process all the way through how those tests are paid for,” Harper wrote in an email explaining the policy reversal to students. “We would never want the payment process for these important medical tests to stand in the way of any student accessing important medical services or testing.”