This past May, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst announced that she will step down from her position at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, but will continue to foster a connection with UConn as a professor of political science at the university’s Stamford campus. After an eight- year tenure at the institution, Herbst’s announcement of departure has, of course, raised some questions from faculty, students and staff about who will fill her shoes in the coming years. To aid in the efforts of finding a new president, an understandably massive task, the board of trustees has appointed a 44-member Presidential Search Committee to assist in this task. However, in addition to these efforts, public forums are being held where staff and students can have their voices and opinions heard regarding the appointment of a new president.
One such forum was held last Wednesday, Sept. 5, for staff to share their thoughts on what to look for in an incoming university president. During this forum, one of the largest topics discussed was the background of the incoming president, as some universities have recently been hiring their presidents from fields outside of academics.
Understandably, many staff had different opinions about what field our new president should come from. Some hoped that a change from the traditional background in academia would bring a breath of fresh air to the university. Jim Wohl from the UConn Ombuds Office hoped that a new president with a public service background “could help UConn negotiate with the state legislature.” As a new president may have expertise in other areas, this could potentially be helpful to both students and staff.
However, some faculty were concerned that a president outside of an educational field would not be welcomed by all. Christine Buckley, director of communications for the CLAS Dean’s Office, 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.” With this way of thinking, it seems as though some staff are not sure an out-of-field president would be as beneficial to the university.
While both arguments are valid, it is important to think about what our university needs as a whole. As our university’s funding is increasingly cut by the state, it may be beneficial to have someone who has worked in the public sector to aid our university in its future financial struggles. However, as UConn is an ever-growing research institution, we must remember that unless you are in academia, it can be very difficult to understand academia. Thus, it might be more beneficial in the long-run to continue growing our fine reputation with someone who understands what a research institution needs to flourish. Either way, we as students need to be confident in our new president and make our voices heard in this selection process as much as we can in order to ensure a positive outcome for UConn.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.