Of the many comments given in a public forum Monday seeking input on what the next president of East Tennessee State University should be concerned with, two topics kept recurring –– pay and football.
The ETSU Presidential Search Advisory Committee, comprised of student, faculty, staff and community representatives, held its first meeting at Millennium Centre Monday afternoon to familiarize the members with the search process and inform them of the timeline for selecting a potential successor to President Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr., the school’s current and eighth leader who will retire in January. The selection process was scheduled to be completed by the end of October.
Prior to the meeting the community was asked by the owners of the firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates, the firm conducting the search for suitable replacements for Stanton, to provide opinions on qualities the next president should possess or what issues were important to the school and community. This public forum began at 11 a.m.
Karen Cajka, director of women’s studies and an associate professor of English, attended the forum and brought up issues of equity in diversity and pay on campus.
“In many cases, in most cases, in the arts and sciences, our departments are the lowest (paid) of everyone in the entire country,” Cajka said in an interview after the forum, adding that female employees, including staff and faculty, are sometimes paid less than male staff or faculty doing a similar or equivalent job.
Cajka was not the only person at the forum, comprised mostly of ETSU employees, to speak about the pay scale at the university. She said the next president needs to be mindful of that situation.
Tommy Wilson, a graduate of ETSU, said in the 1960s football was a point of pride for the school and community. He came to the forum Monday to help bring back football, which was cut from ETSU by Stanton in 2003. The football program was reportedly losing $1 million a year.
“When I was here football was a big thing,” Wilson said. “We enjoyed it. It was an active part of our community life at the university. It needs to be here to support the community and I’m sure the community would support it.”
The opinions on the qualities and attitudes of the next president were varied and included more than football and pay.
Zack Walden, Student Government Association vice president, said he thought the next president should be student-oriented.
“I would like to see a president who listens to students, who’s committed to meeting regularly with student leaders on campus and who continues president Stanton’s policy of an open-door policy for students,” Walden said.
The Southside Neighborhood Organization, which represents the interests of Tree Streets households, drafted a letter delivered by Lisa Orr. The Tree Streets area is adjacent to the ETSU campus. Among the concerns expressed in the letter were the desires for the next president to improve fraternity housing in the Tree Streets and to work toward revitalizing the businesses on Walnut Street.
“In selecting a president for ETSU we hope you will consider a leader who will be savvy to the importance of connecting with its next door neighbors,” Orr read.
When asked by Betty Asher of Greenwood/Asher for qualities of ETSU, the audience said the school had a strong research component, dedicated students, great academic programs, concerned administrators, a beautiful campus, good people, programs based on Appalachian culture and a mentality to continue growing.
Karl Joplin, an associate professor in biological sciences, said the school needed a president to work with everyone and everything the campus as a whole had to offer.
“What we’re going to need is a president that has a strategic plan to bring all of these diverse resources together,” Joplin said.
Cajka said regardless of whether people who spoke were for or against football, had an opinion about pay, wanted ETSU to have a greater role in the economy, wanted the campus green spaces kept undisturbed or wanted the school to recruit more non-traditional and diverse students, the intention of all seemed to be to achieve better academics and experiences for the 15,000 or so students at ETSU.
“Everyone’s interest here was in saying, ‘What can this president do to support our students?’” Cajka said.
The Search Advisory Committee meeting began at 1:30 p.m. Monday. It included time for the public to speak, as will subsequent meetings.
The 21 members of the committee include five members of the Tennessee Board of Regents and 16 representatives from across the region and ETSU. The members were told to be thinking about suitable candidates and to submit those names. The search firm would then contact them about declaring candidacy.
John Morgan, TBR chancellor, said no candidate has yet applied, though Asher said her firm had been in discussions with several potential candidates.
Among the criteria for being president of ETSU are stipulations that the candidate must hold a doctorate from an accredited institution, have a distinguished record of teaching in public higher education, have five years of administrative experience with significant decision-making responsibility, understand private fundraising, know the university and its various constituencies both on and off campus and have an understanding of the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.
“It really does ask for someone who can do everything,” Morgan said. “But that’s what we want.”
The next scheduled meeting is Oct. 17. At this meeting the committee will see dossiers on everyone who has declared candidacy for the presidency. Meetings are scheduled for Oct. 19 and 20, where a pool of anywhere from eight to 18 candidates will be interviewed for president.
Finalist interviews of probably between three and five candidates will then be conducted Oct. 24–28.
Anyone can submit a name for a potential candidate to the search firm and was encouraged to do so.