Dr. William Behre became the third of five candidates vying for the position of University President to visit SRU on Wednesday. Behre is the current provost at Georgian Court University in New Jersey and has held the position since 2014. His career in higher education started at The College of New Jersey where Behre worked for 16 years in the School of Education as a professor and dean.
On Wednesday, Behre and his wife took a tour of campus and met with faculty, staff, student leaders and members of the Slippery Rock community. An open community forum was held in the Student Center Theater where people could ask questions and vet Dr. Behre in person.
When asked what he would look to accomplish in his first six months if chosen for the position, Behre outlined three goals in particular.
“Number one would be simply to learn,” Behre said. “Every candidate is going to say that because it’s true. I know what worked at my last institution. One of my biggest mistakes was thinking that some aspects from my previous job would be transferable to my new one. You have to take time to learn in any new situation.”
The other two angles of Behre’s approach would be to surround himself with a capable and knowledgeable constituency in order to address immediate issues, and to efficiently fundraise by reaching out to community groups. Slippery Rock had a particular appeal to Behre because of the value currently placed on providing quality undergraduate programs and what he called ‘a desire to thrive.’
“I wanted to make a difference on a larger scale, and with a qualified university president already in place, I decided to seek out other opportunities. Slippery Rock stood out to me because of the relationship fostered between students and staff and the high number of students with Pell eligibility. I whittled down my choices to schools who were looking to thrive, and despite disputes with the PASSHE system, Slippery Rock meets that standard for me.”
Questions surrounding inclusivity and diversity on campus were a common theme during the open forum session. Behre asserted that the best way to foster inclusivity is to offer paths to success in and out of the classroom. Offering a quality education, in his eyes, is the first step to students feeling as though their university cares about them and that they are part of something bigger.
When asked what he learned from attending seminars on diversity and inclusivity, Behre was blunt in his criticism of relying on those programs to address immediate issues.
“I don’t learn things from those sessions. For me, the best way to address issues of diversity is to surround myself with people who don’t look like me and come from a vastly different background. I found that this has been the best method for tackling these issues and building positive relationships moving forward.”
Behre was also asked how he would handle a controversial speaker like Richard Spencer wanting to speak on campus and how he would address hate speech in general. He acknowledged while it is important to hear different ideas and be exposed to new ways of thinking, hate speech must be met with education and truth rather than violence.
“The thought of someone like Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos trying to speak on campus makes me a little sick to my stomach,” Behre said. “But in a situation like that, you have to let these people make fools of themselves rather than justify their statements with violence. Colleges are a place where truth is spread. It can’t be forgotten that we have the power of other thoughts to discredit hate speech when it comes to campus. You’ll probably never be able to change the person who said it, but we need to do everything we can positively influence those who the speech is trying to corrupt.”
Making students feel as though they are part of something larger stood out as a long-term goal for Behre. Techniques he would explore would be creating more on-campus traditions that would draw alumni back to visit SRU years after graduating, and implementing more service programs that would accompany freshman seminar classes.
“I would hire people who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m wrong. I understand that most decisions that I would be making won’t be life and death, so micro-managing my initiatives isn’t a good way to spend my time. I want to focus on areas where I know I can excel and bring about positive change while allowing others to make up ground where I’m not as gifted at addressing.”
Behre concluded the open forum by asking audience members what they would value in a president and what they would like to see shortly for SRU. Common responses included maintaining the great relationships between students and faculty, being cooperative with APSCUF and balance a growing university with keeping the value of individual students at heart.
Slippery Rock’s next candidate for president, James Strong from California State University, will visit campus Thursday, Feb. 15 with an open session starting at 3:15 pm and a student session at 4:30 in the Smith Student Center Theater.