Lehigh’s Student Affairs vice provost announces plans to retire

John Smeaton, Lehigh’s vice provost for Student Affairs for the past 20 years, has announced that he will be retiring from that role at the conclusion of the 2015-16 academic year. As a member of the president’s senior leadership team, Smeaton heads up one of the university’s largest divisions, which includes the Dean of Students Office, the Health and Wellness Center, University Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Advancement and Prevention Strategies, the Women’s Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Pride Center and ROTC.

His 32-year tenure at Lehigh spanned four decades, six presidents (including two interims), and the ongoing evolution of the university from a primarily Northeastern, male-dominated student body to one that is now far more diverse and international in makeup.

Among his most significant contributions have been placing Lehigh at the forefront of national initiatives on Greek life, campus safety, mental health,  health prevention strategies, reducing alcohol abuse and on learning outside the classroom, such as through Lehigh’s distinctive bLUeprint program.

Smeaton also oversaw the development the Graduate Student Life Office, the Pride Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Women’s Center, and he spearheaded the evolution of housing options on The Hill, which now includes fraternities, sororities, the UMOJA House and the Sayre Park Village student housing complex.

But he hopes that his lasting legacy will be the caliber of his Student Affairs colleagues, whom he characterized as “deeply and genuinely committed to improving the quality of the student experience.  I have been blessed to work alongside such caring, creative and competent professionals.

“Students are at the center of what we do,” he said. “This period of young adulthood—from 18 to 22 years old—is in many ways, a magical time in an individual’s development. It has been an absolute privilege to contribute to their journey.”

Validation also comes in the form of students from the 1980s and 1990s, who return to Lehigh with their children in the hopes that they will have the same extraordinary Lehigh student experience. “I cannot imagine a greater compliment than to be entrusted with their sons and daughters,” he said.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Pat Farrell said that under Smeaton’s leadership, Student Affairs at Lehigh has become a nationally recognized leader in support of students, innovations in student health and safety, and in development of an inclusive campus climate.

“He has also served as a mentor to many Student Affairs staff members who began their careers at Lehigh and have developed and succeeded here, or moved on to senior positions at other institutions. His dedication to student life and improving the student experience has made a big difference to thousands of Lehigh students and graduates,” said Farrell, who said that he will be convening a search committee for Smeaton’s successor.

Long-time colleague and Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett worked closely with Smeaton during his entire career at Lehigh, and he characterized that relationship as a “privilege and a great learning experience.”

Smeaton, he said, “has always cared deeply about the safety and well-being of Lehigh students and believed in providing many and varied opportunities for personal growth and development. He has developed a truly outstanding staff and collectively, they have enhanced the learning and living environment for many thousands of Lehigh students. John has always been a team player, a willing collaborator and a committed advocate for students and campus life.  I'll miss working with him, though I know he will continue to support Lehigh teams and Lehigh University for many years to come.”

Lehigh trustee Jack Vresics also worked closely with Smeaton for several years in Vresics’ role on the board’s Student Life Committee and said the experience was a true pleasure.

“His dedication, passion and love for Lehigh are evident the first time you meet him,” Vrescis said. “As you get to know him better, you see the richness of his understanding of the opportunities and issues that Lehigh faces and his desire to make all student life experiences exceptional.”

A career devoted to improving student life

A former Dean of Students at Ohio Wesleyan University, Smeaton came to Lehigh in 1984 to serve as Dean of Students. In 1987, he was promoted to assistant vice president for Student Affairs. He was named vice provost for Student Affairs in 1995.

From 1996-2005, Smeaton served as the principal investigator for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to reduce the incidence and consequences of alcohol abuse among college students. The multi-year initiative enabled Lehigh to collaborate with the American Medical Association, the Harvard School of Public Health and national coalition of nine other universities in the identification and implementation of harm reduction strategies for college students. In recognition of his work in this area, he received the 2003 College Leadership Award presented by the American Public Health Association.

He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY at Brockport.  He earned his master’s degree in Counseling at the University of Delaware and his Ph.D. in Educational Administration at the Ohio State University.

He is a member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and Omicron Delta Kappa.  He is a past recipient of the Lehigh University Distinguished Service Award (1999) and the Paul Franz Award for Outstanding Service to Lehigh (2007).