On Feb. 1, 2022, the transition period from interim president Dr. Andrew Agwunobi’s time in office to interim president Dr. Radenka Maric’s term will begin, and by Feb. 20, the transition will be complete. For those at the University of Connecticut, the primary feeling here is one of déjà vu, as the school has seen three presidents leave the post since August 2019. The question remains: Is there any sign that the revolving door in the president’s office might be closing?
One very important fact to consider when discussing the issue of the UConn presidency is that the interim periods helmed respectively by Agwunobi and Maric will be very different. For the former’s, the board of trustees chose not to begin the search for a more permanent replacement and did not state a time that this search would begin. For the latter’s term, a Jan. 14 announcement sent on behalf of board chair Daniel Toscano stated that “[the board of trustees] will launch a national search for president immediately with the goal of naming UConn’s next president by this fall.” While Agwunobi enjoyed a form of pseudo-permanence due to the board’s hesitancy, it seems they have learned their lesson from his premature departure. Overall, there is now room for optimism that whomever Maric hands the position over to might have some longevity in the role.
Unfortunately, former president Dr. Thomas Katsouleas’ tenure is proof that simply being named president does not guarantee longevity. His inability to see eye-to-eye with the board was a factor in his stepped down, but if a president has to agree with the board on everything in order to keep their job, that calls into question the relevance of the position in the first place. Perhaps the structure itself is what needs change, allowing for autonomy for both parties.
Looking forward to the immediate future, the current situation seems to be a good one. The positions of UConn President and UConn Health CEO are no longer filled by one person, as Dr. Bruce Liang will take over the latter next month, also in an interim capacity. The fact that there was no waiting period between Agwunobi stepping down and his replacements being named is also a good sign, as it leaves no room for confusion and prepares UConn for a smooth transition.
Current UConn students in their fourth year or more will have experienced at least four different presidential terms before they graduate, and that just should not happen. A lack of stability in leadership, specifically in times as unprecedented as year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, is concerning to say the least. As the search for a permanent president begins, UConn would benefit from transparency, communication and accountability. In general, frequent and unpredictable fluctuations in leadership suggest a need for democratization in the board of trustees, including significantly greater student, faculty and community representation in decision-making and administrative appointments.