By Jamie Vinson & Jennifer Rogers/News writers
Students, faculty and staff have been attending open forums throughout the week to determine who they think should become Eastern’s 10th president. Four of five presidential candidates spoke on campus earlier this week, and the fifth candidate, Janelle Ashley, will address the campus community today.
Eastern’s Board of Regents hired A.T. Kearney executive search firm and appointed a committee including students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community to assist in a presidential search.
Robert Kustra announced Feb. 14 he would leave the university when his contract expired June 30, 2002.
At a special meeting June 5, Eastern’s Board of Regents unanimously voted to buy out Kustra’s contract. Eugene Hughes, from Flagstaff, Ariz., was appointed interim president and officially began filling former president Kustra’s shoes July 2.
Presidential finalists include Jim Ferguson, vice president for administrative services at Auburn University; David Prior, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; Joanne Glasser, executive vice president for institutional advancement at Towson University; David Payne, vice president for academic affairs at Sam Houston State University; and Janelle Ashley, vice president for academic affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University.
The presidential search committee hopes to have a president named sometime soon.
Ferguson, a native Texan, was the first candidate to come to campus, bringing a background rich in business and administrative experience. And although he says his background is a little less traditional, he still feels that he has the qualities needed to lead, especially at a university having budget concerns.
“That’s one of my strengths and that’s one of the needs you have here,” Ferguson said. Ferguson also said he believed in the principles of shared governance, something he would put to use, trusting the faculty to govern academic programs.
Ferguson also said that he looked for shared governance with the university’s Board of Regents. He said that there were ways to combine the two separate roles of the Board as a policy-maker and the president as a manager.
“The president serves at the pleasure of the Board,” Ferguson said. “That’s a given.”
Ferguson said he also was looking forward to a very student-oriented position as president, working with campus groups and being visible on campus. He said that one of the best techniques he’d observed had been to sit in the dining room or on a bench at the same time every day, talking to students, faculty and staff.
And like most administrators on campus, Ferguson has faced parking concerns at Auburn. Only he labels his parking problems as the biggest challenge of his career.
“I would be accosted at every (Faculty Senate) meeting,” he said. In then end, though, Ferguson said he managed to stretch his team-building skills to secure $6 million in funds, and used the money to create a now five-year-old 21-bus transit system that runs on and off campus. He said the biggest challenge was bringing faculty, students and the community together.
Ferguson, who holds an administrative position at Auburn University, said he has known Ken Johnston, Eastern’s vice president for finance, for a long time, since the two both came from Auburn. Ferguson has been married for 23 years to his wife Jane, whom he calls a “sweet spirit,” and has two daughters who both attend Auburn.
David Prior, from Whitewater Wis., addressed several questions from faculty, staff and students in two presidential forums Monday. Questions posed ranged from how Prior is a fit for this university to how he would deal with the issue of diversity on Eastern’s campus.
Mark Jozefowicz, assistant director for public safety, asked Prior how he would change Eastern’s reputation of being a suitcase college.
“It’s an issue with which I am very familiar,” Prior said. “Now four years ago when I moved to Whitewater, I was told we had a terrible problem on campus. we’re a suitcase college.
“I had not heard the phrase before. When it was described to me I understood that a lot of students were going home,” he said. “It was presented as a very serious problem that needed to be confronted.”
Prior said after a series of surveys conducted, results revealed that 50 percent of students stayed on campus three weekends a month.
“It was a revelation,” Prior said, noting the impression was that most students went home for the weekend.
He said he wanted to find out on the other hand, why more than 40 percent of students were going home on the weekends. Prior said that after researching the issue, he found that the majority of students are first generation students, are on financial aid and maintaining part-time and full-time jobs to pay their way through school.
“I decided that those students have so many things going on in their lives, the last thing I’d want to do is to encourage them not to manage those responsibilities,” he said. Prior said the objective then became to find ways to make campus exciting for those students who do choose to stay on campus during the weekend, noting First Weekend as a positive program at Eastern.
John Taylor, former faculty senate president, asked Prior how he felt about faculty/staff input regarding a presidential evaluation. “I am comfortable with the work I do,” Prior said, noting he welcomes feedback.
In his spare time, Prior said he enjoys the outdoors, fishing, hiking and playing golf. In addition, he is an avid reader. He and his wife also enjoy regularly attending university and community events.
Tuesday’s forums introduced Joanne Glasser from Towson University to campus. Glasser wasted no time making the forums a little more intimate, snatching the microphone from its stand and telling the audience, “I don’t like standing behind the podium.”
And when the questions began, she said, “There are no topics or questions I shy away from.”
Glasser also has a less traditional background, with a list of legal experience in county and city offices. But she’s held her post at Towson University for almost nine years, and also feels qualified to handle concerns.
“I do bring a very different background with me,” she told her audience Tuesday. “I bring a passion with me, and a dedication for students.”
Glasser admitted that she’d done a bit of research on her own, visiting Richmond and Eastern’s campus for 2 and one-half days earlier without the search committee knowing. She said that her visit allowed her to find out if moving here would be a “good fit.”
Glasser said she visited merchants and restaurants to help her determine the quality of life and the community’s relationship with Eastern. She also brought her 15-year-old daughter, whom Glasser said would be excited to move and even wanted to come back for her mother’s official visit.
“I don’t have any reservations,” Glasser said. “I really don’t. I think the fit would be good.” She added that going from a larger university like Towsend, with over 17,000 students, to a smaller university would be easier. She said that she had worked to make Towsend feel like a smaller place.
But despite the difference in size, Glasser told the audience that she was attracted to Eastern by “uncanny” similarities with Towsend, like similar college structure.
Glasser said her decision-making process emphasized informed decisions.
“I believe in the absence of information, people make uninformed and stupid decisions,” she said. But she added that one aspect of decision-making was harder than all others for her: per
Glasser said she always handled personnel decisions privately. “That’s the best way to maintain the integrity of the individual,” she said.
The remaining two presidential candidates will be featured in next week’s issue of The Eastern Progress.