Dean, pastor take professional development leave for the semester

Dean, pastor take professional development leave for the semester
Jon Splichal Larson opens the mid-year update with a prayer. Photo by Olivia Bertino

Mark Blackburn, the dean of students, and Pastor Ann Rosendale, the campus pastor, are both on professional development leave for the spring semester.

While Blackburn’s leave was approved just a few days before the beginning of the semester, Rosendale was able to plan her leave further in advance.

Blackburn and Rosendale’s departures were announced to students on Feb. 3 in an email, which also announced that Checka Leinwall and Pastor Jonathan Splichal Larson will be their temporary replacements, respectively. Both Blackburn and Rosendale will return in the fall.

Mark Blackburn

Blackburn said he requested professional development leave in November to complete his doctoral degree in higher education leadership but did not receive confirmation of his approval for leave until just days before the start of the spring semester.

Because he hadn’t yet received confirmation of his leave, Blackburn made plans to stay on campus and finish his degree in his spare time. Blackburn has been working on his PhD since 2016 and is set to graduate in May. His dissertation is on “the lived experiences for Black football players attending predominantly white institutions.”

While Blackburn said he is grateful for the time off to complete his degree, now that he is on professional development leave, the futures of many of his initiatives are uncertain.

“Timing is not really that great because I still have a lot of things I have to do in fulfilling my commitments to the students,” Blackburn said.

Despite the inconvenient timing, Blackburn said he hopes his pursuit of his doctoral degree inspires students.

“I really want students to see that no matter where you are – as the Dean of Students or wherever – that there’s that lifelong learner,” Blackburn said. “I hope students can see there’s another side of Mark, that I’m a student too.”

According to Sara Alhasnawi, president of the Augustana Student Association, organizations like the ASA, Viking Days and the Union Board of Governors may be left without a sufficient adviser in Blackburn’s absence.

“We’re capable of running things solo but only to a certain extent,” Alhasnawi said. “We reach a point where we’re running into projects we can’t sign off on on our own.”

The ASA primarily relies on Blackburn for mentorship and senate advice but also as an administrator who signs off on contracts for speakers and events. Viking Days normally has an adviser for recruiting their committee chairs, but this year students are operating independently. The UBG also normally relies on Blackburn to sign off on contracts for their Friday night events.

In Blackburn’s absence, more work will be left to students to manage. Alhasnawi said she and ASA Vice President Tsegab Arega have been left to plan the Diversity Summit in March and to do outreach for the ASA pop-up optometry clinic initiative independently, both tasks an administrator would normally help with.

Blackburn’s other initiatives include a scholarship project that connects students with Sioux Falls businesses and My Brother’s Keeper, a support group for students of color on campus. These initiatives will be put on hold or left for students to manage during his absence, according to Alhasnawi.

Leinwall, the associate vice provost for integrated learning and student life, is filling in as the acting dean of students in Mark Blackburn’s absence. Leinwall said Colin Irvine, the provost, chose her for the position because of her previous experience as a dean of students, vice president and Title IX coordinator at other institutions. Leinwall is taking on the role of dean of students in addition to her role as the associate vice provost.

“I love Augustana, and when the opportunity was presented to serve in an interim capacity in a field that I’ve known and loved for thirty years, I was happy to do it,” Leinwall said.

Alhasnawi said she was concerned Leinwall may be too overwhelmed with both of her jobs to be able to sufficiently account for Blackburn’s absence.

“Checka does not have the complete institutional history of everything Mark has been doing,” Alhasnawi said. “I worry that she may be handling a lot now that some of Mark’s responsibilities will have to be delegated.”

Blackburn and Leinwall had one week to work together and prepare for Blackburn’s departure, but both said they felt sufficiently prepared.

Leinwall said the added responsibility is a lot of work but that she feels capable because of the support of other staff and her previous time working with Blackburn.

Leinwall will return to her normal position as associate vice provost for integrated learning and student life in the fall when Blackburn returns.

Pastor Ann Rosendale

In Rosendale’s absence, Pastor Splichal Larson, the associate campus pastor, will be in charge of campus ministries as interim campus pastor.

According to Splichal Larson, Rosendale is using her professional development leave to further Augustana’s campus ministry plans for the future. Rosendale was unavailable for comment about her professional development leave.

“One of the main focuses for Pastor Ann’s leave is to assess campus ministry at Augustana to vision for the next stage of what it will be like,” Splichal Larson said. “She is traveling to a lot of other ELCA universities and colleges and other places to have conversations with colleagues there to see what other places are doing, the good things and the challenges.”

Rosendale is also visiting sites in Israel and Palestine, Splichal Larson said.

Splichal Larson has been working as a part time interim pastor at Augustana since 2021. He has been talking with Rosendale for the last year about serving as interim pastor during her professional development.

Elizabeth Toso, a student member of the chapel staff, said chapel staff had been talking about Rosendale taking professional development leave since midterms of the fall semester. In Rosendale’s absence, student staff members have taken on more responsibilities in planning events to help Splichal Larson.

“I think we’re really learning how much [Pastor Ann] really did for us,” Toso said.

Splichal Larson said one of his main goals as interim pastor is to keep the chapel stable in Rosendale’s absence.

“Some of my work is just maintaining stability in her absence, having worship happen three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 10:00 a.m., completing service projects that we traditionally do, and whatever creative stuff bubbles up in [students’] minds, making that happen,” Splichal Larson said.

Splichal Larson is also working with chapel staff to understand student priorities, creating partnerships with other organizations on and off campus, coordinating outreach events, and planning for Lent.

“I think things have been going well,” Toso said. “I think we’re all a little overwhelmed, but I think everybody is understanding and happy with how things are going so far.”

After he is finished serving as interim pastor this semester, Splichal Larson may return as a second full time pastor at Augustana, but the decision will not be finalized until early summer.