At the Slippery Rock Council of Trustees’ quarterly business meeting today, a vote was taken to take the next step in appointing SRU’s next president.
Prior to the council’s 1:00 p.m. open meeting, the presidential search committee recommended two names to the council to send to the board of governors for consideration as SRU’s next president. The search committee recommended Dr. Bruce Murphy, the current president at Nicholls State University, and Dr. Amir Mohammadi, SRU’s vice president for finance.
Prior to the council’s vote on whether or not to send the two recommended candidates onto the board of governors, Riley Keffer, the vice president for finance of the Student Government Association, spoke during the open forum section of the meeting. Keffer said that he had spoken with constituents from several student organizations on campus and the consensus was that none of the candidates possessed all desirable qualities they were looking for.
“To state simply, we are not entirely confident in one candidate being the best decision for the presidency of Slippery Rock University,” Keffer said. “In our opinion, a president should possess a strong academic background, experience with a residential campus and the student culture it promotes, experience elevating a university that is already successful in the areas of enrollment, academics, finances, athletics and more. We also believe that they should be proactive in promoting an inclusive environment, knowledge about issues that students face and the related policy, they should also have a strong presence to communicate with the Board of Governors and lastly, passion for SRU. While there are some of these characteristics in the three candidates, we did not see a desirable number in just one candidate.”
Keffer called on the council to vote against sending Murphy and Mohammadi’s names to the board of governors.
After the public comments portion of the meeting, the council heard committee reports, interim president Philip Way’s report of the president and voted to approve five committee items. From here the council opened discussion on the vote to send the search committee’s recommended candidates to the BoG.
Trustee Robert Taylor opened the discussion by saying that he planned to vote no on the motion as he had several issues with both the qualifications of the two candidates and with the search committee.
“I would say that the field that we are now moving forward to the board of governors if this motion passes, is the weakest field of candidates that I have seen in my experience,” Taylor said.
Taylor had served on the board of governors in the past and said that he had seen nine groups of candidates for presidents in his time there.
“I feel, at the end of the day, that both of these candidates are not qualified to be the president of Slippery Rock University,” Taylor said. “I am an alumnus of Slippery Rock University and I expected a lot more for Slippery Rock University than I’m seeing here. Slippery Rock University is better than a mediocre spot, it’s better than a mediocre campus, it’s better than the other 13 universities in the state system and I think we’re making a mediocre recommendation today.”
Taylor also expressed that he believe that certain members of the search committee had a conflict of interest in the decision on who to recommend, as Molly Mercer, the university executive on the committee, and Scott Albert, and at-large member of the committee, both work directly under Mohammadi in the office of finance and administrative facilities staff, respectively. The chairman of the council, William McCarrier, clarified that the board of governors knew of this and had cleared them to be on the committee.
Trustee Suzanne Vessella agreed with Taylor that the conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest, was real. Trustees Jeffrey Smith, Matthew Lautman and Thomas Breth all disagreed and said that they did not believe there was any conflict of interest and that they had full confidence in the candidates chosen.
Smith revealed, on Vessella’s questioning, that the three candidates who were brought to campus for interview (Murphy, Mohammadi and Marsha Krotseng, current president at Bluefield State College) were not the candidates originally selected, however. Out of 75 total applicants, nine were chosen to have preliminary interviews, held at Pittsburgh International Airport, and from those nine, four were chosen to come to SRU for further consideration. However, two of those four candidates withdrew their names from consideration and the remaining two, and one alternate candidate, were ultimately brought to campus.
Trustee Richard Wukich said that he trusted the judgment of SGA, including president Rachel Lawler and VP Keffer, who both spoke at the meeting.
“I have talked to many, many students and I respect the opinion of the elected officials in student government, and I think that they vetted the candidates very, very carefully. I feel that Vice President Keffer’s recommendation that we extend the search is a true view of what the students at Slippery Rock want,” Wukich said.
A roll call vote was taken after completion of the discussion with the votes tallied as follows. Voting yes to send Murphy and Mohammadi on to the BoG for consideration were trustees Breth, Lautman, Matt Shaner, Mary Jo White and McCarrier. Voting no were trustees Alfonso Angelucci, Taylor, Monica Traggiai, Vessella and Wukich.
With a five to five vote, the motion failed and the recommended candidates will not be passed on to the BoG for consideration. Following this vote, there was discussion as to whether or not a new search committee should be made or if the current process should be extended. It was decided that the council was unsure as to what exactly the state system guidelines on this were and call the meeting to a close, with the intention of finding out what they should do next and, if need be, holding a special session next week.
At this point it is unclear whether the current search committee will be taking more applications and continuing their search, a new committee will be formed and continue the current search or if a new committee will begin an all new search, but for now no names will be sent from the SRU council of trustees on to the BoG for consideration to be SRU’s next president.