After having served as SRU’s provost and vice president for academic and students affairs since February 2013, Philip K. Way was appointed as interim president on July 21, following former president Cheryl Norton’s retirement.
Way said that Norton had asked him when he first came to the university if he was interested in being a president.
“I remember she asked me and I just said ‘I just want to watch and see what you do and see if it’s what I want to do’, because it is very different from being a provost,” Way said.
Way said the main difference is how the time is split up for the respective positions, with a provost being in the office more while the president has to spend their time half in the office, and half outside the office. A month after being selected as interim president, Way said he’s enjoyed it.
“I’ve done it for a month or so and I love it,” Way said. “I really like it. It’s fun to get to know the students in more depth. I enjoy meeting people from the community because I’m learning how high they hold us in their regard, and it sort of makes me feel good about what we’ve done.”
Way was born in London, England but moved around a lot. He was associate provost for undergraduate programs for over six years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and also served as senior associate dean of arts and sciences for a year at UAB.
It was as a graduate student, when Way first started teaching that he realized he was energized by teaching.
“I really enjoyed making things clear for students and one thing I always prided myself on as a teacher is really trying to distill difficult subjects like economics into easy to understand bites and help people to use the beauty of that discipline to understand the world,” Way said.
Way said research was also important to him, and that he was excited to get a buzz out of discovering things that people didn’t know.
Way’s first time working in higher education administration was at the University of Cincinnati, and after being promoted and tenured he realized he loved it.
“I thought maybe there’s a career in the kind of executive realm in the university,” Way said.
Way said he had heard of Slippery Rock University at numerous conferences throughout his career and was impressed.
“Sometimes it (the presentations at the conferences) was about the budgeting system, sometimes about enrollment management, and I said to myself if ever a job becomes available at Slippery Rock, I want to apply,” Way said.
Eventually a job did open up when Way was looking to become a provost, where he worked with Norton. Way said the biggest takeaway he learned from her was to take calculated risks, with the financial situation four years ago being difficult and requiring cut back.
“One thing that we chose to do was instead of cutting back we were going to invest in our future and she was game to go along with that strategy,” Way said.
The strategy included finding ways to avoid cutting staff and faculty, while also serving the community, such as finding a way to give students and employees what they want, and to do it in a way that the university comes out with more positive net revenues, meaning that the revenue from tuition and state appropriation offsets the costs and helps to balance the books.
Now that Way has experience and time with the position, he said his main plan is called “change and continuity”, with the continuity involving ways to ensure the university follows the strategic plan, while the change aspect focuses on the culture of the university. Way said he wants to make SRU a better organization as a whole, and help people achieve their goals at work and help them grow personally and professionally.
“I want to create a sense of community so that we all feel that we have support from our peers, and I know that I want to create more of a sense of enjoying work,” Way said. “What I’m trying to do is create more kinds of events where people can get together, socialize and have fun. I really believe, and this is how I live my life too, I work hard, but I play hard too.”
Way said one thing he was able to accomplish already this semester was letting employees combine their lunchtime and break times to watch the eclipse, and that employees appreciated it. Way said it was important to morale.
Another aspect of the “change” part of the plan is to have meaningful conversations, with Way hoping to meet with groups at the presidential house, residence halls and have fireside chats on the second floor of the Smith Student Center.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for students to meet me and get to know me, talk to me, and get their concerns sort of more publicly to me,” Way said. “If I get a sense that there’s something that needs to be improving and enough people are telling me at that point we will see what we can do to improve the quality of life for students.”
Way already started talking with students, giving out muffins on the first day of class and hosting a cookout for Jump Start students.
As interim president, Way will go back to his previous position of provost and vice president for academic and students affairs, once the presidential search selects a candidate to replace Norton.