In high school she wanted to be a ballerina, then a Shakespearean actress, and a doctor in college, but Sandra Patterson-Randles, a finalist for the ETSU presidency, settled on becoming a teacher for her career.
“I taught for 30 years, so I’m a dyed-in-the-wool professor,” Patterson-Randles said during an ETSU campus staff forum Friday morning. “I came up through the ranks.”
Patterson-Randles, chancellor of Indiana University Southeast, was the last of three finalists vying for the presidency invited to ETSU for meetings with all the campus groups. She began forums with the staff, faculty, students, deans, retirees and others at 8:45 a.m. Friday and finished the day with a 7:30 p.m. community reception at the Holiday Inn.
Current ETSU President Paul E. Stanton Jr. will retire in January.
Patterson-Randles has been chancellor at IUS for 10 years. But at 63, she has only 1 1/2 years before Indiana’s mandatory retirement age of 65 kicks in for her.
“I don’t think I’m all washed up at 63,” Patterson-Randles said in one forum. “I’m ready for some new challenges.”
She heard all about the challenges and issues facing ETSU during the day’s forums.
As with the other candidates, the issue of low salaries at ETSU was brought up to Patterson-Randles. According to a faculty study, ETSU has the lowest faculty salaries in the nation. The staff said they face the same salary situation.
“I am deeply concerned about the salary levels for faculty and staff on this campus,” she said. “Frankly, I don’t know how that happened. But I think it’s fixable.”
She said salaries at IUS were low when she became chancellor. She developed a plan to bring up faculty members to 85 percent of the national average in pay and had done so for all but two professors by the time the recession hit and put a halt to pay raises in Indiana government, she said. She had made progress on staff salaries, too.
In response to a question about how visible she would be as president, she said she hoped to be very accessible to students.
She said a recent event at IUS had her dancing to the rhythms of a band from Barbados.
“I got out there with our staff members ... and students, and we started boogeying with this band,” Patterson-Randles said. “So I would hope I would have that sort of comfort with the campus and students wherever I would go.”
Football came up at the staff forum. ETSU’s football program was dropped in 2003, because it was losing money.
“First of all that is very much a campus decision,” Patterson-Randles said. “I am not opposed to football necessarily, but you have to be practical about it.”
She was asked about the smoking ban on campus and said IUS has a similar policy, but like at ETSU it is difficult to enforce, especially for students.
“One of the things I would hope would happen is that the folks on campus would have the backbone to say, ‘This is a no-smoking campus. Would you put that out?’ ”
Asked about the importance of diversity on campus, Patterson-Randles said she purposely turned down several teaching jobs early in her career to accept a teaching job that would give her experience with a diverse population of students.
She said diversity on campus is important, because students will have to work in a world that includes many different people. She said diversity must include more than racial background and gender, but also veteran status, socioeconomic status, age, culture and other things.
“I am a strong believer in diversity,” she said. “I think we have to have good programs that reach out to faculty and students to show them its a good community.”
The issues, problems and challenges ETSU faces are common across higher education, Patterson-Randles said in an interview after the first student forum.
“There’s a very strong basis here,” she said. “And one of the strong things about this institution is its people and sense of community. So, are these workable? Yes. Very definitely yes. Some good planning, some strategic visioning and then some really focused implementation working with people to get buy-in and consensus, I think this campus’s priorities can be clearly established and the campus move to the next level.”
TBR Chancellor John Morgan will meet or speak privately with members of the local search committee who selected the finalists to glean their thoughts on Patterson-Randles and the other finalists –– Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kent State University in Ohio, and Brian Noland, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission chancellor, both of whom were on campus Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Morgan will use that information to recommend one candidate to the full Board for acceptance or rejection.
For the interviews with Robert Frank and Brian Noland, visit www.johnsoncitypress.com.