Last week, Slippery Rock University narrowed the pool of presidential candidates down to three. Opportunities have been given to students to meet with these candidates and discuss how SRU can continue to excel — and what should change moving forward. Beyond specific positions on campus policies, however, the best candidate should ideally represent the following qualities: he or she should have a background in one of SRU’s stronger academic fields, have an appreciation for SRU’s niche comparative to other post-secondary institutions, and has accomplished an outstanding feat that reflects a cause that SRU heralds.
Having a background in one of SRU’s stronger academic fields is important because the candidate would have more genuine feelings about what makes SRU successful. President Norton had a background in PHE, which is one of SRU’s premiere academic fields. This qualify made her seem like more of an extension of the university because she was representative of a core group of students. Academic backgrounds representative of SRU could include education, PT, the humanities, and others. These majors have a deeper history with the university, and thus could be considered pillars of SRU’s academic achievement. Candidates with these credentials make a good impression because the strengths of the university align with the candidates’ personal fortes. SRU has an unmistakable small-town vibe in the context of a growing public university. Because of this, it is unlike Grove City College down the street, BC3 in nearby Butler, or many of Pittsburgh’s universities. The institutions which make up SRU require a distinct type of appreciation, and part of that entails having familiarity with SRU’s mission, character, and context. For example, SRU has gained a reputation as having the “best value” comparative to other colleges, per College Factual. This means that a president must be chiefly concerned with keeping costs low for students and upholding that brand, all while fostering growth to “address the educationally-related economic, health, environmental, social, cultural, and recreational needs of the communities served by the university.”
SRU is multidimensional in the sense that the people it serves have complex scholarly, professional, and life objectives. Therefore, having a background in growing a university, maintaining a niche brand, engaging in a small-town community, and serving distinct groups of learners is important for a university president. This quality hints back at chiefly having a genuine appreciation for SRU’s niche by having familiarity with its context in education.
The most difficult criterion for a candidate would be to have taken part in accomplishing a feat that is reflective of SRU’s culture. SRU has been proactive with adopting all-gender bathrooms, rebranding entire programs with Health and Wellness Education, creating First-year leadership programs such as FLSP or Professor Protege, and implementing community outreach programs like the Stone House Center for Public Humanities. These activities reflect SRU’s broader values of inclusion and leadership and showcase SRU’s willingness to attend to the changing needs of its students and community. A presidential candidate should have played a major role in the creation of activities that promote community and student engagement or leadership similar to SRU because it reflects a broader alignment of values between president and university.
Indeed, my suggestions could be considered symbolic and idealistic because they primarily favor qualities pertaining to personal background rather than merits related to administrative duty, which would be the chief concern of university presidents. However, symbolic and background qualities are important because students and faculty should feel as if their president works for them on their intellectual and personal behalf. A president should have overlapping qualities with his or her institution’s strengths because it signals that he or she is cognizant and genuinely representative of the university’s students and faculty.