The University of Michigan announced on March 26 that Martino Harmon was appointed and approved to serve as the Vice President for Student Life. Harmon will be replacing E. Royster Harper, who retired in January. Harmon will officially start his tenure at the University on July 1.
In an interview with The Daily, Harmon said he looks forward to serving a new community at the University.
“This, for me, is a pinnacle position in my career (and) I feel like everything I have done has prepared me for this role,” Harmon said. “It’s a dream opportunity for me and I am so excited. I cannot wait to meet the students, to meet the staff and work with the faculty.”
According to a press release issued by the University Record, Harmon will oversee University Health Service, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the Trotter Multicultural Center and University Housing. Harmon said he is most excited about working with the administration to promote student success through his leadership of these offices and programs.
“When you are in this role, you have to take a 30,000-foot view of how you can make a difference,” Harmon said. “(I’m focused on) how we can work with the leadership team and how we accomplish our goal — which is really enhancing student success.”
Harmon said he worked with similar departments at Iowa State University.
“When I look at my background, the departments that I will be working with at the University of Michigan are very similar to many other departments that I work with at Iowa State,” Harmon said. “The most important thing that I am looking forward to is working with the leadership team and the staff, getting to know them, getting to know the needs of the students and getting to know the needs of the division.”
Harmon was a first generation college student. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing, a master's degree in human resource development and educational technology and a doctorate in higher education and administration, all at the University of Toledo.
Since 2016, Harmon has served as the senior vice president of student affairs at ISU, where he also served previously as the associate vice president for student affairs. In an email to ISU faculty and staff, he noted that the decision to leave ISU was bittersweet, but that the move to Ann Arbor would allow him to be closer to family.
“There were two things that were really special about this opportunity,” Harmon said. “I would be following a legendary vice president of student life, Dr. E. Royster Harper. And it was very similar to the background I had here at Iowa State.”
According to the Iowa State Daily, in 2016, Harmon, along with several other members of the administration, was named in a lawsuit filed by a senior student who was a member of Young Americans for Freedom at ISU. The lawsuit was filed regarding a comment from another administrator, the senior vice president of diversity and inclusion, about this student's involvement with organizing activities that were deemed offensive to other students.
According to the lawsuit, ISU faculty and staff told the student that his conservative viewpoints violated university policies. The student filed the lawsuit after being required to take part in Title IX training and after a hold was placed on his graduation.
The settlement did not eliminate ISU’s ability to require students to enroll in online Title IX courses. However, it did result in a change in policies in December 2016 to “avoid penalizing students who fail to pledge compliance to its discrimination and harassment policies.”
Harmon said he had no involvement with the lawsuit.
“When some lawsuits happen, you may be named just by title of your position, it's not a lawsuit that I was directly involved in at all,” Harmon said. “It was as much of a surprise to me as anyone that I was named in a lawsuit, but our general counsel worked on those issues, and I was not directly involved with this case.”
Harmon also worked closely with ISU President Wendy Wintersteen on campus climate efforts to mitigate racism on campus following a string of racist social media posts, white nationalist rhetoric and racism within the Greek life system at ISU. Together, the leadership, including Harmon, laid out a 10-step plan to address campus racism after issuing a statement condemning the actions.
“The issue of racism on campus is one of the key challenges of our day on campuses across the nation,” Harmon said. “I consider myself a front-line person in supporting students and supporting a positive campus climate … You can ask any student at Iowa State, they know that I care, and they know that I really promote doing anything that we can do.”
Wintersteen said in an interview with the Iowa State Daily that Harmon was an important administrative leader within the university.
“He has been a key member of my leadership team, bringing personal insight, wisdom and analytical skills to every discussion about the critical issues of the university,” Wintersteen said.
Harmon also spoke about his work with ISU’s transition to online classes amid the COVID-19 outbreak and how he is working to engage with students during this unprecedented time. He said he will especially focus on this school year’s freshmen at the University, particularly if courses are still online in the fall.
“We have been trying to not just make sure that our services are available online but trying to have creative ways to engage students in the use of those services,” Harmon said. “As I come into the University of Michigan, one of the questions I will be asking is, ‘How can we make sure those first-year students from last year, if we do go fully online in the fall, how do we stay connected with them?’ because those are the students I think are most vulnerable.”
In addition to the responsibilities he will be taking on, Harmon told The Daily he is excited to be immersed in the athletics and student traditions at the University.
“I am a big time sports fan,” Harmon said. “I grew up in the Big Ten and just to be part of the athletics scene at the University of Michigan — I really look forward to that. I am (also) really excited to learn about the student traditions and what the traditions are that make the University really, really special.”
Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.