Rodney Hanley, the provost and vice president for financial affairs at Fisk University for three years, visited SRU on Friday as the final presidential candidate in a group of five finalists.
Prior to his current position at Fisk, Hanley also held the positions of provost and VP of financial affairs for Lakehead University, and was the faculty chair for the Department of Earth System Science and Policy at the University of North Dakota.
Last year, Hanley was offered the position of Chancellor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, but declined, stating that would be what is best for his family after a “excruciating decision” between Hanley and his wife.
Hanley and his family toured SRU’s campus this morning. Hanley’s tour was with his wife, Sara, and their two children Harry and Edward, who were born in Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectively.
Following his tour, Hanley took part in an open-community forum where he presented his history to a crowd of faculty, students and community members, before a Q&A session and student session.
Hanley holds a wealth of relevant experience thanks to his time at Fisk and other colleges. Fisk is a historically black college that produces the most African-American physics masters students in the nation, as well as holding a “bridge” program with Vanderbilt University to encourage more minority students to obtain higher degrees.
“Universities have issues building diversity [with students], and another huge problem is having a diverse faculty,” Hanley said. “We established the program with Vanderbilt to help build that diversity.”
Hanley combined all of his past experiences to lay out what his plans would be for SRU in his first six months as president, where he focused on the three key areas of collaborative leadership, telling the University’s story and a transformative experience for students.
Hanley said that his approach to leadership is a two-pronged one, built on humility and empowerment.
“If you want to get something done in higher education, the best way to approach it is with a humble spirit,” Hanley said. “Empowerment [means] I have no desire to do your job for you, I wand to empower you to do your job.”
Hanley’s comment of leading through being humble was brought up when he was asked to provide an example of a misstep he had made in his career, which he offered there was a “buffet of examples” for.
“At Fisk, the day that Eric Garner was killed, there was a cloth banner hung on the entryway,” Hanley said. “The president ordered that the whole banner be torn down, I pressed the president about as hard as I could press to let them protest, but he would not relent. I lost that particular battle.”
Hanley believes that SRU can be a place of excellence, and that his past experiences can help drive that excellence into being more of a reality.
“I always harp on excellence, I have no interest whatsoever in mediocrity,” Hanley said. “The environment for higher education is too competitive, there really is no place for [mediocrity].”
Hanley stressed the importance of what students mean to a university’s legacy.
“We have walking, talking legacy pieces right now– they’re called students,” Hanley said. “The way you interact with students could make a huge difference in the life of a student.”
One of Hanley’s biggest areas he stressed was that SRU could become the state’s leader in sustainability for universities.
“There are three main ways that a university can contribute to sustainability. Placing it into the curriculum, the processes of the University itself and modeling sustainable behavior,” Hanley said, who stated he believes Slippery Rock has success in all of those areas.
Hanley ended the day by asking the crowd what they like the most about Slippery Rock, prompting everyone to not overthink the question with a smile on his face. Answers included the people at SRU, it’s “home-like” feeling, unique experiences and assisting students among other things.
Hanley was was the final of five presidential candidates to visit Slippery Rock this year.