With all the drama and controversy surrounding the SRU presidential search in the fall, some people were talking as if the search for SRU’s next president was dead in the water. Many people, including members of The Rocket Staff, were unimpressed with the first three finalists that visited campus this past September. While these three candidates were ultimately passed over, there was some fear that they might just be the best that a national search could produce for SRU. If the five new candidates’ visits to campus last week proved anything, it is that there was nothing to fear.
The Rocket staff believes that all five of the new presidential candidates are impressive and are, as a whole, a better group of prospects than the three last semester. The Rocket believes that any one of the five candidates would make a suitable president for SRU is chosen and that this second search was a wall to wall improvement over the last one.
We believe that all five candidates had strengths in higher administration experience, student relations and university success, but two of the candidates stood out to us and are our favorites: Daniel Wubah and Rodney Hanley. While the search committee and Council of Trustees sent forward a slightly different pair (without Wubah and with William Behre), we still feel it important to share our view as students and community members heavily involved in the search.
Dr. Daniel Wubah, current senior advisor to the president at Washington and Lee University, and Dr. Bill Behre, current provost at Georgian Court University, were identified as our favorites among the candidates when the staff voted earlier this week. Of the 13 members of The Rocket staff, the votes were as follows: six for Wubah, five for Behre, one for Dr. Rodney Hanley and one abstention.
Hanley, the provost and vice president for student affairs at Fisk University, was the final candidate last week, coming to campus on Friday, Feb. 16. During his open session with SRU students and community members, The Rocket was impressed with his experience in creating successful new programs, handling difficult situations involving diversity and his leadership philosophy. Hanley’s leadership philosophy was a combination of humility and empowerment. Considering Hanley is moving forward as of this morning, it is worth noting that the staff feels the university would be in good hands with him.
The other two candidates, Dr. Matthew Liao-Troth, provost at Hawai’i Pacific, and Dr. James Strong, former provost at California State Stanislaus, were also strong candidates. Laio-Troth showed a true passion for working in higher education and making an impact in students’ lives and out of all the candidates Strong was possibly the most pragmatic, listing 10 priorities he would focus on in his first six months as president.
Wubah and Behre however, distinguished themselves from the rest of the candidates to The Rocket staff.
During his open session, Wubah showcased an expansive background in higher education and spoke convincingly about his passion for student success. The dedication Wubah showed for underrepresented and first-generation students was undeniable and he showed that his vision for Slippery Rock is one filled with student achievement. Wubah’s philosophy on diversity also struck a cord with The Rocket staff. Wubah said that diversity is not about any number, statistics or percentages, but instead, it is about ensuring that any student, from any background, can feel comfortable and be successful when they come to Slippery Rock. The Rocket also appreciated Wubah’s commitment to making students a part of the dialogue and caring about what they have to say. Wubah said that he makes sure there is always a student on any committee he makes.
Behre showed in his open session an ability to handle difficult situations and a trust in students to think critically. During the question portion of the session, The Rocket was impressed with Behre’s answers regarding controversial speakers on campus and about his long-term goal for Slippery Rock. Behre said that, being a public institution, he would not be able to bar controversial speakers from coming here, however, he would have faith in students to be able to think for themselves and not be swayed just by one speaker. He also said that it would be important to offer counterpoints and differing opinions for students to consider. Behre’s long-term goal for Slippery Rock was making sure that Slippery Rock can continue to be successful and financially stable, while also making sure that SRU does not grow too large and lose what makes it special. Growing is good for any school, but what makes SRU special is the ability for students to connect with faculty and growing too large could jeopardize that. The Rocket believes that preserving SRU’s family-like community between students and faculty is paramount to whomever the next president is.
Even though the two finalists moving forward do not match up with our staff’s pick, we are confident that both would bring unique perspective and experience to Slippery Rock University.