Students want transparency, open communication from future UConn president

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Organizer and USG Public Relations chair Omar Taweh said the incoming president should be someone who will advocate for the students and take their needs into account. (Eric Yang/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut students expressed the need for a president focused on transparency, student needs and feedback at USG’s presidential search forum, held on Wednesday evening.

UConn board of trustees chairman and head of the Presidential Search Committee Thomas Kruger took input from the dozen students who attended the forum, the second one held specifically for students after a low turnout at the first, Kruger said.

Organizer and USG Public Relations chair Omar Taweh said the incoming president should be someone who will advocate for the students and take their needs into account.

“UConn has such a diverse population, and more than anything we need a president that can connect with them,” Taweh said. “I would like… someone who has the interest of the students at hand.”

Attendees of the forum echoed these sentiments, citing the need for clearer communication between the administration and the students. Ninth-semester urban studies and economics major Freddy Santiago, who attended the West Hartford campus before its closing, said many student issues stemmed from both a disconnect between administrator decisions and the students, and the main campus and its branch campuses.

“(I) value a president who values transparency,” Santiago said. “That’s a culture shift that starts with the president.”

Taweh added to these sentiments, mentioning past issues with bus route and parking changes that were not communicated to students earlier in the semester.

“There have been a lot of issues that a level of transparency and student feedback would have solved,” Taweh said. “The president should be cognizant that (transparency) was an issue in the past, and that it will be in the future.”

Taweh added that many students feel as though administrators “act as (they) are above these students,” which he said he hopes the new president will address.

Communication with branch campuses was another common topic, as University Senate Budget Committee member and board of trustees undergraduate trustee candidate Dylan Nenadal urged Kruger to provide more opportunities for branch campus students to add their input to the search.

“There’s nobody here from the regional campuses,” Nenadal said. “I want to make sure the future president takes into consideration student issues… and involve the regional campuses more.”

Kruger said the logistics behind involving branch campus students are difficult.

“It’s a four hour round trip for me,” Kruger said. “I would look for a way to (involve branch campuses) more efficiently.”

Student trustee Christine Savino said she would work on broadcasting future forums so students can participate remotely.

The current search for the Chief Diversity Officer was also of interest, as PRLACC member Caesar Valentin asked whether a new one would be appointed with the president. Kruger said that the search committee is focused on the president as of now and will search for a new CDO after a new president is appointed.

Valentin said the new president should be focused on student involvement and connection.

“(We need) someone who regularly attends events run by students,” Valentin said. “(Herbst) has never visited PRLACC to my knowledge.”

The cultural centers are also facing staffing problems as their membership grows, Valentin said, and the limited full-time staff struggles to accommodate the needs of their students.

“They are everything,” Valentin said.

Kruger asked Valentin what the cultural center directors’ roles were.

Valentin replied that the cultural center directors help students plan for classes, manage their mental health, find their cultural identity and offer career and academic advice, on top of planning for events and managing part time staff and payroll.

Kruger expressed surprise at this.

“They became counselors?” he asked.

Valentin said the directors indeed had, due in part to the reduced mental health resources available to students on campus, which USG president Ama Appiah said is another integral issue for the next president to tackle.

“(We need) someone who takes into consideration that mental health and academics are interconnected,” Appiah said.

Kruger said that the input offered by the students at the hour-long forum will be utilized by the committee, and all the topics discussed are integral to the university.

“These things are not controversial,” Kruger said. “These things represent the university values we should pursue.”

He added that UConn faculty want an “academically conventional” president, based in research and academia, instead of someone not familiar with university culture.

“People whose views I respect told me a president with a conventional academic background will do better than a non-convention academic candidate,” he said.

As the applicant pool is looking “better and better,” Kruger said the committee hopes to begin interviews after Thanksgiving break.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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