Philip Way has been serving as SRU’s interim president since July 21, with the search currently underway for former president Cheryl Norton’s successor.
With almost a semester under his belt, Way said changes he implemented during his first few months as interim president have been successful. One change, the introduction of fireside chats, where members of the campus community can meet with Way, offered valuable conversation pieces.
“It’s pretty intense sometimes,” Way said. “They come up with some wonderful ideas and in some cases, bring things to my attention that I really didn’t know about that we should be working on as priorities for the institution. The fireside chats are useful in spite of maybe the volume of students not being considerable at those.”
Fireside chats are not the only chance for students to talk to Way, with the interim president meeting with different clubs and campus groups at the presidential house.
“Having the students over at the house is probably the most common thing I’ve done,” Way said. “I’ve had literally hundreds and hundreds of students of representing different groups on campus. It’s a chance for me to get to know everybody and to hear what’s on their minds and try to do something to make the campus and the university truly the best in the system.”
Way also meets with students inside Boozel Dining Hall, and he said it’s a great way to meet with students and he hopes to do more in the spring semester.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to get to know them over the meal and to combine meeting and eating; I think it works pretty well, and they get a free meal too,” Way said.
Formerly serving as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs since Feb. 2013, Way said the biggest lesson he’s learned since becoming interim president is time management.
“I kind of expected that, but the reality is much more significant than I imagined because you’ve internal stakeholder groups who are trying to meet you, the students, the faculty and the staff,” Way said. “There’s just not enough time in the week so you have to pick and choose. Some people may not like that, but at the same time you’re trying to support students on campus.”
Despite the high volume of people Way meets with, he said he ultimately enjoys it.
“Having a job where I’m 50 percent in the office, having meetings and trying to advance the institutions progress towards its strategic goals is great, and I’ve got the other 50 percent where I’m outside the office talking with these various stakeholder groups,” Way said. “I think the variety of the job is something that I enjoy considerably.”
Way said a lot of his goals as interim president revolve around making the culture throughout SRU a great place to study and a great place to work. Way said that hosting activities that make employees feel respected and show that the administration is friendly is something he’ll share with Norton’s successor.
“I’ve been fortunate in that people have responded to those kinds of things,” Way said. “I get countless emails and tweets and oral feedback from people saying they do appreciate that approach.”
The changing of the university’s Equal Employment Opportunity’s statements to include gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation were another thing Way said he was proud of.
“I think that was a really positive signal to people on campus,” Way said. “We do embrace all forms of diversity and that’s certainly a point of pride and was well-received on campus.”
This semester also saw the biggest freshmen class ever for SRU, another feat Way was proud of. Way also said the introduction of an extended presidential cabinet is another change being tried out, with about 23 senior level employees now involved in discussions of critical issues.
“I want to extend that shared governance much more,” Way said. “I’m meeting the employees and make sure I’m listening and that’s the bottom line. I want to listen and to improve things if I can.”