With current SRU President Cheryl Norton stepping away from her office and into retirement following the spring 2017 semester, the university and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) will work together to establish a search committee for the next president.
Slippery Rock’s Council of Trustees will appoint the members of the search committee, which will include current SRU faculty, SRU alumni, university staff and current SRU students. However, SRU is not the only state university in the process of finding a new full-time president, as Bloomsburg and Shippensburg are searching for candidates as well.
We believe that as a school in western Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock and its search committee should narrow the search to candidates who have local ties to Slippery Rock and western PA. While local ties and school connections do not necessarily make a president successful, we believe that an understanding of the campus culture and community is something that can increase the chance of a president’s success. Much of the criticism aimed toward Norton’s short tenure was that she didn’t have the full understanding of the culture at Slippery Rock, which may have added fuel to her friction with some Slippery Rock students.
SRU is a model university within PASSHE and while the right candidate may not necessarily be from the area, it would be a comfort to the student body if the committee looked at candidates who understood the particular nuances and challenges of heading a small-town school.
Trust is invaluable when establishing a relationship among university staff, faculty and students, it seems to us as though this was something that many felt lacking during Norton’s run as university president. We can perhaps attribute some this to the frustration over the Spotts and Miller Auditorium construction and her controversial response to the APSCUF strike in October, but some of these issues could have been avoided with a president who better understood the SRU community. Nonetheless, Norton also brought great things to the table during her time as Slippery Rock’s president, most notably increasing enrollment, something that we as a university need to continue long past her departure.
The best way for the new president to establish trust is by hearing out all of the concerns of current students and faculty and being willing to accommodate or address those concerns. This means being able to understand said concerns coming into the position. There is no time in this kind of position for a learning curve, and for this reason, it is best to hire a candidate who is already familiar with the concerns of faculty and current students and who will be able to understand and sympathize with them and possibly be willing compromise or find a solution to those existing issues.
At a time where unity, trust, and mutuality are not only important but vital for a thriving campus, Slippery Rock University needs a president who can connect with the community and understand the microcosm of our small-town Pennsylvania community, hence our belief that a current or former member of the university community would be the best option as our new university president.