The search for the next Shippensburg University President has begun. At last week’s Council of Trustees meeting, members of the council were appointed to a presidential search committee. While the interim president position, filled by Charles Patterson, was filled rather quickly last semester, presidential searches typically take longer.
So, during this time it is important that the students of SU make sure their voices are heard and considered in this decision-making process. The Student Government Association is one facet of making student voices heard and the organization will be helping in the search. Individuals still need to take some time to think about what the next president should be like or what they can do to help students on their college journey.
For me, there are specific traits the next president should have and some considerations they will need to make to best serve our university.
First and foremost is the need to have open and honest communication between the president, their office and the students and faculty of SU. Many of my peers and I have felt that in the past years, communication was largely restricted from and to the university president. Necessary information, from emergencies to new school programs, was deemed not applicable to students and kept quiet without additional detail from students, or simply not passed along at all. From the student point of view, there was no reason for this and many of us are still trying to figure out what caused this harsh disconnect.
The restriction of information from the president and the president’s office had several negative consequences, including fostering mistrust of the administration among SU students. In the past, students were chastised for seeking information and made to run in circles to get details. At the end of the day, I know my university is filled with good hardworking people who are willing to help me succeed. I think many of my peers feel this way as well. Still, the next president needs to take the time to consider and evaluate the relationship with the students they are being handed.
If the next president seriously considers the communication culture they are taking on, I think the students will give them the chance to change it. Like all families, those at SU butt heads, get in arguments and may not always like one another. Yet, I still have seen so many of us come together to support each other time and time again. If the next president willingly acknowledges the restricted communication culture it will speak volumes to the students. That simple acknowledgment would mean so much to us, because it also shows that the next president wants to hear from us and is not afraid of our words harming the reputation of the university.
The next vital action the future president should take is getting to know Shippensburg University. Roles on all levels from administration to professors are stretched thin right now. Likely, someone who was not previously affiliated with SU will take on the role of president. If so, they need to commit to learning about the history of our university. They need to not just learn about our historic milestones, but about the history of our culture and community.
The culture and community of Shippensburg University has changed many times over its 150-year history. The next president needs to get a firsthand look and understanding at the state of this community as well as the events and decisions that created the current campus culture. No one can be a good leader if they come into a community blindly. Whether you are leading a student group or leading a state university, it is impossible to serve your community positively and with integrity if you do not take the time to learn about it. When I graduate in the spring, I will have attended two schools in my lifetime. My K-12 school and my university. Even though I will have only spent four years at this college, it has impacted my life and altered my path in such an intense and positive way. Yes, I will have some disagreements with the school but that is part of every community. I may not be able to recite the timeline of the university, but I have learned about its recent history. I did this because I wanted to know how it affected my experience and how it could affect future students. As a student, I expect the next president to do the same, after all they will likely be here longer than I will have been.
Lastly, the next Shippensburg University president needs to have a fire of passion for this school and it students, faculty and staff. I do not think anyone in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) looks at it with rose-colored glasses. We are facing issues and crises from all angles right now. Still the students, faculty and staff work hard at SU. The pandemic, the PASSHE financial issues and other problems have left this community roughed up. We need a president who is genuinely excited and passionate about higher education. The next president needs to be ready to face the storms of SU and build up the students, faculty and staff so that we can be the best SU we can be.
So, to those about to throw their hat in the ring, I ask you to take these statements seriously and act upon them. For myself, I know that seeing actions taken and promises kept inspires and reassures me. I am not the only student at SU who wants to see the next president care for students, in addition to hearing them tell us that “they care.”