President-elect William Behre visited SRU’s campus yesterday for a reception officially welcoming him to the university.
Behre is currently chief academic officer at Georgian Court University and was named as SRU’s next president on March 14 by the Pennsylvania Board of Governors.
Behre said he was proud and humble that he was chosen and said the hospitality displayed on campus was amazing. He also outlined his plan to learn before officially be instated as president.
“Over the next few months I look forward to working with Interim President Way on the transition, and I do want to bring the point up that I will try to make it here a few times,” Behre said. “If you see me here in May, I’m a student. I need to learn. That’s one of my key goals.”
Behre he has three goals when he takes over as president, the first being not to break anything.
“The first few months is okay; don’t break anything, and I will try really hard,” Behre said. “You guys are doing just a fantastic job here.”
The second goal of Behre’s was to learn, with Behre calling on the community to answer what it takes for him to be the best president and approach him when he visits campus.
The third goal of Behre’s was to work on improving and analyzing how the university works and helps students.
“I hope together we can work hard and be excellent to each other,” Behre said.
During a press conference before the reception, Behre spoke on what made him decide to apply for SRU. Behre said he targeted places that gave students opportunity for higher education, stating that 30 percent of students who go to SRU receive the Pell Grant, showing they had a high need. Behre said SRU doesn’t struggle to survive, but instead, how to thrive.
“You’re worried about what is probably the juiciest problem, which is how do you take a great institution and help it to thrive even greater and I’m excited about that possibility,” Behre said.
When asked what his number one goal was as president, Behre expressed a wish to learn about SRU, where its’ tension points are, and then work with the community to build solutions to them.
Behre also spoke on moving back to PA, stating that while western PA was new to him, he had spent 16 years in Bucks County and was familiar with PASSHE, but not familiar with the area itself. Behre also defined leadership.
“I’ve been in higher ed for 20-something years,” Behre said. “Being a good leader, especially in a transitional period is not about what my opinions are, it’s about marshaling the whole community towards the problems defined by the whole community. In many ways a good leader at a university is asking the community the tough questions.”
When asked how long he will stay at SRU, Behre said he doesn’t view the job as a short term gig, and that the biggest challenge going from the position of chief academic officer at Georgian Court University to president of SRU would be that he has a different job, and to seek advice from those in academic positions at SRU.
Behre also discussed how he would work with students, faculty, and PASSHE.
“I think being present with a capital P,” Behre said. “It’s not just showing up at events, it’s sitting down, it’s listening, it’s understanding. You have to realize that in the state system, we’re one of the strongest, healthiest institutions in the system. If we’re going to remain healthy, we have to work with the system in order to keep the whole system healthy. It’s a matter of speaking to the chancellor and listening to the very real concerns systemically. It’s trying to figure out what are the resources we have here and then, when necessary, what are the resources I have to discuss centrally that we can marshall in order to solve problems. It’s advocating in all directions but more importantly it’s listening in all directions.”
Jeff Smith, the council of trustee member who was the chair of the search committee that helped to select Behre, was asked if the search process was worth it in the end.
“It has been,” Smith said. “It was a lot of work and I can’t tell you how hard the search committee worked on this. I was the face of it, but they’re the ones who did the work and the ones who deserve all the credit for the eventual outcome. It was definitely worth it. I don’t know if we could have asked for a better outcome.”
Karen M. Whitney, interim chancellor for PASSHE, spoke before the press conference and congratulated the search committee as well as council of trustees members William McCarrier and Jeff Smith.
“They have done exceptional work,” Whitney said. “They need to be remembered and appreciated.”
Whitney also spoke positively of Behre.
“He is an incredible leader; he is just the right person, at the right time, for this university and I couldn’t be more proud,” Whitney said.
Rachel Lawler, SRSGA president, also spoke at the beginning of the meeting, thanking those in attendance, the search committee and PASSHE. She also welcomed Behre to SRU.
“We, the student and the largest stakeholders of the university, expect nothing less than your full commitment to Slippery Rock University,” Lawler said. “In addition, your honesty, visibility and transparency to all students, staff faculty and administration should be a daily focus during your term as president.”