April 3, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

The rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout our country and our world is causing disruption at an alarming pace and scale. During a crisis such at this, my role as president calls for me to take actions to sustain the stability and integrity of the institution. Today I write to share news of two such actions. First, as I shared last week with the search committee for the dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs (DoF/VPAA) and with the faculty secretary, I have suspended the search for the DoF/VPAA. Second, with the full support of the Board of Trustees, I am appointing Sonia Cardenas acting dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, effective now through June 30, 2022.

In these unprecedented times in higher education, we must strive to ensure that we continue to fulfill the academic mission of the college in a strong and uninterrupted manner. The DoF/VPAA is essential for this continuity and plays multiple important roles at our institution. The DoF/VPAA is a leading member of the President’s Cabinet, working with other administrative colleagues, liaising with the Board of Trustees and donors, and managing legal and regulatory issues. The dean also takes responsibility for leading the faculty in a time of crisis. Sonia has been an esteemed member of the political science faculty since 2001, an academic dean since 2013, and the vice president for strategic initiatives and innovation since 2019. Since the summer of 2019, she has been serving very ably as interim DoF/VPAA. I am confident that Sonia can provide the academic leadership that the college needs.

As acting dean, Sonia will be fully empowered with the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of the DoF/VPAA and is responsible for the continuity of our academic mission. She will consult with Faculty Conference in the appointment of the academic deans. I recognize that many faculty will be disappointed in the suspension of the search, but I understand the importance of including a faculty voice in the selection of both the academic deans and the dean of the faculty in the future.

With each passing day, it is clear that the effects of this pandemic will be long-lasting, and we do not yet know when normal college operations will resume. As such, it would be irresponsible to make a change in leadership of such a mission-critical position at the college, indeed the number two leadership position, in the midst of an emergency of this magnitude. We will need an acting dean in place for the next couple of years to maintain the stability of our academic program. This is especially true given the pending departure of Anne Lambright, dean of academic affairs, in June 2020.

My heartfelt thanks to Sonia for agreeing to serve in this capacity. We are very lucky, indeed, to have such a strong, adaptable leader with such deep knowledge of our institution and our faculty. Although I recognize that transitions are always difficult and these times are leaving many of us unsure of the future, I have full confidence in Sonia’s abilities and her dedication to continue the positive momentum in the Office of the Dean of the Faculty. She will have the authority to act on behalf of the college and the resources to continue to move us forward. I ask you to offer your unqualified support to her in this position.

In taking these actions, I have considered deeply my commitment to shared governance and consulted with the Board of Trustees and with Faculty Conference. My expectation is that a new search will begin early in academic year 2021/2022 with the full consultation and support of the Faculty Conference at that time. Collectively, we are committed to a strong faculty voice and consultation with Faculty Conference in the selection of the dean of the faculty and the academic deans at Trinity College.

I appreciate the spirit in which this community continues to manage this crisis collaboratively with an understanding of the distinct roles that we can and must continue to play to navigate through this period.

Times of crisis make exceptional demands on all of us. I ask you to be vigilant, perspicacious, and ready to do extraordinary things on behalf of Trinity.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience