On Sept. 20, The Daily Campus published its interview with new UConn President Thomas Katsouleas, shedding light upon his vision for the university and the student body’s reception toward him. In his brief stint here thus far, he’s exhibited an uncanny ability to voice his thoughts concerning UConn’s short and long-term future while relating personally to students and remaining open to and available for receiving feedback in ways that his predecessor, Susan Herbst, never did. Although these are promising signs of what’s to come, we must encourage Katsouleas to stay on this track for more than a mere month.
Throughout the interview, Katsouleas addresses several key points of contention among UConn students and alumni. As someone with an engineering background and as the direct successor to humanities specialist Herbst, he has a unique perspective on the STEM-liberal arts debate. Encouragingly, Katsouleas prohibits his bias from interfering, for he notes that “in an age of commoditized knowledge, humanities and fine arts, which are about cultivating creativity and ideas, that’s where the value is in today’s society.” He also hopes to fortify UConn’s standing as a research university by expanding research and scholarship opportunities.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that he stresses the importance of remaining accessible to students. Whereas Herbst infamously had restrictive office hours and minimal means of contact and exhibited stoicism publicly, Katsouleas has coffee hours at the Benton and office hours at several regional campuses and appears willing to partake in mindless diversions (in fact, you can follow him on Twitter @PrezTomKat).
As he articulates so soundly, “I think it’s important for a president to be the president of the entire university, and that means being accessible to the entire university. And I also think I can’t do the job as well if I don’t hear from people and understand how things are going.”
Fortunately, these don’t appear to be empty words, for he’s put some of them into practice. Also on Sept. 20, Katsouleas held office hours in UConn’s Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, where he answered student leaders’ inquiries candidly, but also respectfully and inquisitively. Later that day, he exhibited tremendous courage and leadership by addressing the organizers who occupied the lawn outside his office during the Fridays for Future on-campus climate strike. It would’ve been easy to buckle under such pressure or ignore the raucous crowd entirely, but instead Katsouleas spoke calmly and rationally on behalf of student activism and vowed to do everything within his power to enact environmentally friendly practices at UConn. He converted countless boos and jeers into claps and cheers with ease; hopefully that becomes a trend.
Now, none of this is to say that Katsouleas is completely above reproach. However, we must support him throughout his tenure as UConn’s president, during which he must abide by his precedents for success.