The comments given at the staff open forum with the University of Connecticut presidential search firm focused on the importance of the future president’s ability to fit in with the university’s culture and navigate tough financial times for the state.
More than a dozen staff members attended the forum held in the Dodd Center Wednesday morning.
The forum was hosted by Thomas Kruger, the chairman of the advisory committee that will be assisting the UConn Board of Trustees in selecting the president, and representatives from the Isaacson, Miller Inc. search firm.
One of the central questions Kruger asked the staff was about hiring a president who does not have an academic background, as some other universities have been hiring people from public service or private sector backgrounds.
“You (the president of UConn) are working in a deep-seated culture and I think it’s important to take the time to understand…the culture and then amend the culture,” Eleanor Daugherty, Dean of Students, said.
Jim Wohl from the UConn Ombuds Office said non-academic presidents at other universities who serve the longest terms tend to have significant public service backgrounds, something that could help UConn negotiate with the state legislature.
“Ideally, (the president) would be someone who can mesh both the interests of the university with the interests of the state and the economic development of the state and the role UConn will play in it,” Wohl said.
Hiring a non-academic president would still be a rejection of long-established traditions in higher education.
“Any non-traditional president who comes in (would be going) against the grain in terms of the culture and history of most higher ed institutions,” Wohl said. “I’m not saying that’s good or bad…but it is a reality.”
Christine Buckley, director of communications for the CLAS Dean’s Office, said it might be easier for someone from academia to understand and articulate the importance of the critical balance between the liberal arts and STEM fields.
“I think it’s really, really important to have a president who…is multidisciplinary and who understands the value of both the STEM and liberal arts side of the spectrum,” Buckley said. “I think people within a university are more willing to trust someone who has come up through their way of training and who can see the whole picture.”
Kruger said, while preparing students to use the technology they will need, the university must not lose sight of the importance of its liberal arts program.
“STEM is very important…making sure the university stays abreast of what students are going to need in terms of connection is very important and all that’s going to have to be balanced with the fact that we are also training citizens,” Kruger said.
Elsie Gonzalez, director of initiatives for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, said her priorities for the new president are diversity and technology.
“Our students are very connected online, and I’m interested in a candidate who is also connected and communicating on those platforms,” Gonzalez said.
Kruger said diversity is a “well-imbedded concept” in their search.
Jim Hutton from the Office of Environmental Policy wanted to know what questions the committee would ask the candidates about UConn’s commitment to being a “green” campus.
“I think the committee should be aware that students are more and more interested in ‘how green is your university?’ and UConn ranks high in that area and to lose ground in that area would be a mistake,” Hutton said.
Buckley said she wants a president who will be able to defend the critical role of the university’s employees against potential critics.
“During bad budget times, state employees get a bad rap,” Buckley said. “I think it is important to have a president who will kind of go to bat for both the support staff and the administrative staff that help keep the university running.”
Later in the day the firm also held open forums for veterans, faculty and the Graduate Student Senate. UConn Law and UConn Health will also have forums on their campuses today. The Undergraduate Student Government forum will be tonight in the Student Union Theatre from 6 to 7 p.m. There will be an open student forum immediately following at 7:15 p.m.
Anna Zarra Aldrich is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @ZarraAnna.