Hiring a UVU president who will bat for students and academics

By Lydia Mongie

Who will UVU’s Presidential Search Committee select to be the next president of UVU? What qualifications will they have? What concerns will they prioritize? Will they have a degree in Philosophy? English? An MBA? Will they even have a degree? These are some of the questions students are asking about who will fill this central leadership role.

The results aren’t in yet, but the candidates are. Feb. 2 was the deadline for applications for UVU’s presidential spot. According to the Presidential Search website, the ideal presidential candidate must “be a proven leader at an academic institution and display expertise in leadership over traditional academic programs and a commitment to the respective roles of career and technical education.”

According to the Presidential Search Committee, candidates should also value inclusion, access, opportunity, be able to fundraise and build rapport with students, businesses, educators, governments and communities. They make a final note that “a terminal degree is strongly preferred.”

But do these qualifications reflect the needs of UVU’s student body and faculty? It is concerning, for example, that a “terminal degree”—a PhD—is the last qualification on the list and is not mandated. This subtle minimization of academic credentials seems to deemphasize the need for UVU—an accredited institution for higher education—to be led by someone who has attained a prestigious level of education themself.

Although the Presidential Search Committee’s priorities do not mirror university evaluative criteria, they do reflect a broader trend in education. Today, a quarter of college presidents have business backgrounds and zero university administrative experience, according to a study published by the American Council on Education. UVU, however, has had its moment as an administration-heavy institution. As UVSC, the state school was run by a strong group of administrators who could keep up with the fluxuations and high turnover of part-time faculty.

But now that UVU employs hundreds of PhDs, who train students in 84 bachelor’s degree subject areas and eight master’s degree categories, perhaps it is time for UVU to loosen some of its red tape and open up avenues for greater academic freedom and creativity. Maybe it is time to hire someone who will put greater emphasis on inquiry-directed research and shared governance.

Jessica Wallace, a senior English major, said she would like to see a president who “has experience with or knows exactly how academic institutions operate.”

She also stated she would like to see “a president who cares about professors’ and students’ best interests, not just numbers and money.”

Sophomore nursing major, Phoebe Rudolph, expressed some practical worries.

“I would like to see a female president. A new perspective in that position would be great, and in light of the Title IX issues, no one would be able to understand women’s issues better than a woman,” said Rudolph.

Junior geology major, Nick Udy, raised additional concerns in regard to minority issues.

“A president who understands minority needs is essential. Simply running campus-wide surveys about issues is not enough to ensure accessibility and success for every demographic at UVU,” said Udy.

These comments underscore students’ desires to see a president who will work hard to eliminate safety concerns, like rape on campus, while maintaining an environment where students and faculty are not limited by market demands or financial productivity.

But how might UVU’s Presidential Search Committee go about selecting a president who will prioritize student interests and academics?

Perhaps the Presidential Search Committee might start by assessing their hiring pool. Have they located applicants who have experience in higher education and who can also lead UVU to becoming one of the safest and most creative places to attend college? They might also consider out-of-the-box candidates, like people with training in critical traditions, such as philosophy or English, who have more concern for academics than profit. They might even consider hiring someone who will stick to a budget, while actively rejecting corporate pressures on research and education.

Overall, if UVU is to remain engaged, serious and inclusive in education, the hiring decisions must be held to the same standard.

 

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