BY: WESLEY ROBINSON
Eastern could have its 12th president chosen as soon as tomorrow.
Now that visits have been made by the three finalists–Michael Benson, the president of Southern Utah University; Gregg Lassen, vice president for Finance and Operations for Lamar University; and Alan Shao, dean of the school of business at the College of Charleston–the presidential search committee will meet Friday and could make a decision that day, said Student Government Association (SGA) President Madelyn Street.
“I think it will be very easy for us to reach a unanimous consensus once we have all of the information gathered during these three campus visits,” Street said.
Street, who is the student representative on the Board of Regents as well as the student member on the presidential search committee, said the candidates would all be well received by the campus community; At least based on the feedback and evaluations she’s seen thus far from university personnel and students.
“I think they all stood out in different ways,” Street said. “I really want to wait to form a final opinion until I’ve seen all of the evaluations and feedback from every constituency in the university.”
Richard Day, an education professor, said he believes Benson is the strongest candidate for Eastern. Day has attended all three open forums, attended faculty sessions with the candidates, and researched and vetted all three candidates on his blog theprincipal.blogspot.com.
“[Benson] has the strongest record of having done what we would expect [at Eastern],” Day said. “If past performance is a good indicator of future performance, he looks to me to be the strongest candidate.”
Day added that Shao would also be a good candidate if selected. And he said he still has questions about Lassen, particularly regarding his past political and business ventures as well as his educational background.
“My interest is that we have a good president,” Day said. “We all rise or fall under our leadership, that’s my agenda. I’d like to have confidence in our president that things are getting better.”
Benson, who was the first candidate to visit campus, said the university community takes cues from the president and he will be a positive leader for the campus.
“I’d do a lot of listening and talking to a lot of different people,” Benson said. “I don’t in any way pretend to have all of the answers and I would be open to as many perspectives and opinions as you would be willing to offer.”
Benson said President Harry Truman is his leadership role model and, as a student of history, he wouldn’t jump to making any rash decisions, instead taking his time to get all the information.
The next candidate to visit Eastern was Lassen, who said he would focus on the university’s strengths as the next generational university president.
“We start to have to use business terminology to describe ourselves,” Lassen said. “We’re no longer the place where you go if you live in Eastern Kentucky. We’re Eastern Kentucky [University] who does these handful of things exceptionally well, and wherever you live you should come here because of that.”
Lassen said Eastern is “doing more with less” as state financing continues to dwindle and would focus on building partnerships to strengthen the university’s future.
Lastly, during the third candidate’s forum, Shao briefly outlined an eight-year plan, which sets annual goals and partnerships to figure out how the university would best position itself as an educational leader. But, he said, students should always be the primary focus.
“A strategic phase gets things going, so rebranding actually works and is not [consistently bringing about new plans],” Shao said.
Shao said developing self-supporting programs and focusing on globalization will help generate revenue and also provide students with the necessary resources to be successful.
Jason Marion, an environmental health sciences professor, said all three candidates possess different strengths, but any one would be good for the university.
Marion said he has observed the selection process at other universities and added that he’s pleased that Eastern has tried to keep the university community informed and involved in most of the steps along the way.
“Everyone at those three schools knows [the candidates] are up for the job.” Marion said. “[After Eastern chooses its new president], two of the candidates have to go back and live in that world [where they currently work].”
Sheila Pressley, faculty senate chair and member of the presidential search committee, said she was pleased with the participation at the university’s open forums.
Pressley said President Doug Whitlock has been gracious throughout the search process, adding that he’s helped set a good example of what the university is looking for in its next president.
“It’s natural to want to compare the candidates to President Whitlock,” Presley said. “We’re going to look at the good things that he did and the example he left. We hope the candidates keep that in mind. They will soon bleed maroon, too.”