On Thursday afternoon, the fourth candidate looking to step into the position of SRU president Dr. Jim Strong presented himself and his ideas to an open forum of Slippery Rock community members and university students and faculty members.
Strong graduated from Lafayette College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, then went on to receive his masters in business administration from the University of Toledo, and finally earned his Ph.D. in marketing and organizational behavior from Drexel University. Strong moved to Akron where he started as a professor, and later earned the title of Associate Dean of the College of Business Administration. After spending 26 years in northeast Ohio, Strong headed for the Golden State to serve as Dean of the College of Business and Public Policy for California State University Dominguez Hills, transferring after seven years to CSU Stanislaus where he was hired as the provost.
Strong, now a professor of marketing, stepped down from his position as provost after six years to allow the new president of CSU Stanislaus the freedom to hire a provost of her choice.
During the first 15 minutes of the forum, held in the Smith Student Center theater, Dr. Strong answered the two biggest questions that each of the five candidates answered, first describing his background and why he believes he’s the most qualified candidate.
“I think it’s critical for leaders to demonstrate humility and embrace the principles of servant leadership,” said Strong. “I’ve been deeply committed to the success of students at each university where I have served.”
Strong listed 10 priorities to be completed within his first six months as president, ranging from building upon relationships with stakeholders and PASSHE to reviewing and expanding upon the SRU brand as well as various plans on budgeting and fundraising.
“Alumni are the group that’s most interested in the institution,” said Strong. “So, they’re the folks to talk to about how we can improve and make Slippery Rock even better.”
Throughout the forum, Strong stressed the importance of building relationships within the community of the university and continuing the success the university has seen in recent years.
Strong also sees himself as an advocate for student success, and he said he’s worked with committees on improving graduation rates, getting faculty more engaged and personally making himself available and visible to the students and the public. The success of underrepresented groups on campus is incredibly important, Strong said. It’s a priority that members of those minority groups feel supported, and everyone on campus, from students to administration, should be involved and working toward the success of those students.
“Everybody needs to be aware of the importance of diversity, and the president needs to be the spokesperson for communicating that message,” Strong said of supporting groups of underrepresented students at SRU.
The idea of transparency was also a talking point during the open discussion, with Strong advocating for a very open relationship between the president of the university and the various publics he would be in contact with. Strong feels that a strong connection with the students is key, and he said he’s always willing to be as accessible as possible.
“Leadership needs to be present; absentee leadership is not effective,” Strong said. “I think that the external role of the president is very important and no one can really play that role in the same way that the president can. Major donors, major corporations, they want to talk to the president, so I think that’s critically important to do that.”
When the audience had exhausted their questions, Strong turned the tables, asking the students, donors, faculty and community members seated before him what they wanted to see in their new president, as well as what the public believes will be the biggest challenge facing the new face of the Rock. Strong received answers from all across the board, providing insight into what the community truly wants.
“I’d like to see the image of Slippery Rock be heightened,” said an SRU alum in the audience. “There are some big players in the educational market in Pittsburgh, and I think we have a very good reputation in Pittsburgh, but I’d like to see the next president really build on that reputation so that we are a player with equal force for the kinds of programs we offer.”
Director of the Women’s Center Jodi Solito also provided input, stating that she hopes the new president will take advantage of the opportunities presented by the recent movements taking place all over the country in regard to diversity. Solito specifically said she wants to see SRU become one of the highlights of the state system in that regard, and she wants the university to not only to continue to be as welcoming but expand upon that.
Overall, the audience members agreed that the unique part of SRU is how much the students love the university and that the new president needs to remain student-focused in order to be truly successful.
SRU’s fifth and final presidential candidate, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Fisk University Dr. Rodney Hanley, will hold another open forum on Friday, Feb. 16 starting at 3:15 p.m. and a student session at 4:30 in the Smith Student Center Theater.