From county commissioner to students, community weighs in on selection of new SUU president – St George News

Rich Christiansen, co-chair of the SUU Presidential Search Committee, speaks alongside his co-chair Nina Barnes during Tuesday meetings for public comment, Cedar City, Utah, January 18, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITYWhen members of the newly formed presidential search committee for Southern Utah University met Tuesday to listen to the campus community, they encountered almost as many questions as suggestions.

Research Committee Members Gather Input from Community Members, Students, Faculty, and Staff Representing Various Interests at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, January 18, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News/Cedar City News

How will the new president interact with students? What will they do to connect the university to its surrounding community? Who will the president represent? How will they view mental health and promote wellness on campus?

These questions and many more have been asked repeatedly and in different ways by students, university employees and members of the community. Fortunately for the search committee, many of the same people who asked the questions also offered examples of positive leadership and proposals for addressing these challenges – as well as encouraging words for committee members.

“A lot of times there’s a disconnect between the student experience and the top brass, so to speak,” said Sam Crittenden, chief of staff for the student union. “Finding people to proactively bridge that gap and be part of the student experience and personally invest their time in student lives makes a huge difference to the value of the student experience here at SUU and certainly has for me. “

Other comments from students, faculty, and staff were aimed at making all students feel welcome and promoting well-being.

“In this new president, I would like them to have a great understanding and a great ability to recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion is a key part of our culture,” said Jayson Matlock, deputy director of financial aid. “We are growing not only in the types of programs and initiatives we offer, but also in our mindset, our vision and our culture.

An undated file photo of SUU students, Cedar City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News/Cedar City News

Public meetings were held in two-hour increments beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning. Each meeting had a peak audience of over 90 attendees joining remotely via Zoom and over 20 additional members of the public attending at the Sharwan Smith Student Center.

For community members and alumni in attendance, the primary concern seemed to be the President’s investment in the local community and their desire to make inroads with local leaders and other community institutions.

Iron County Commissioner Michael Bleak spoke at the afternoon meeting and expressed his desire that the search focus on alumni and other qualified individuals who have a commitment to SUU and a understanding of local culture.

“I think it’s really important for the president to be aware of and relate to those cultures, as well as local Native American culture, pioneer heritage and that kind of stuff,” Bleak said. “Too often in SUU’s past, the decision for positions has not necessarily been based on the best fit for the school or the community.”

Bleak, who is also currently enrolled as a student at SUU, spoke about the challenges the city and county face in meeting student housing and safety needs.

Eight of the 21 members of the Presidential Search Committee attended the morning meeting, Cedar City, Utah, January 18, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News/Cedar City News

Based on feedback from several faculty members and community representatives, the new president will need to balance the growth of the institution with maintaining quality education and a high standard of living.

In terms of innovation, several speakers praised past presidents’ efforts to advance the university’s teaching and expand academic offerings. Some, like President Brennan Wood of Southwest Technical College, said they hope SUU will continue dual enrollment and online education that provides quality education at a reduced cost to many rural and low-income students.

The presidential search was precipitated by the announcement in June 2021 that then-President Scott Wyatt had accepted a new position as Senior Executive Director of Statewide Online Education in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Shortly after Wyatt’s departure, Utah’s higher education system selected Mindy Benson to serve as interim president until the formal selection process for a new college president could be completed. be finished. At the time, Benson was vice president of alumni and community relations at SUU.

“If you look at President Wyatt and Acting President Benson, they’ve both been heavily involved on campus,” said Hunter Bosgieter, a current student and student programming council member. “They felt ‘down to earth’. They are always saying hello to the students and they really get to know us. If this continues, I feel like it will help the school grow a lot as well as the community.

Scott Wyatt, SUU President 2013-June 2021, delivers welcome address to students for the Fall 2018 semester, Cedar City, Utah, August 20, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News/Cedar City News

The search committee is made up of 21 members and led by co-chairs Rich Christiansen of the SUU Board of Trustees and Nina R. Barnes of the Utah Council on Higher Education. In addition to these two interests, the committee includes representatives from the community, students, and SUU faculty and staff.

“The next step for this committee will be to prepare a position announcement,” Barnes said. “We’ll take all those comments and our own, and put them into a document – it’s kind of a job description. Any comments you make to the committee are heard, and anything you send will be incorporated into this position announcement.

Once the announcement is finalized, the committee will launch a call for applications. Utah’s higher education system has engaged executive search firm WittKieffer to expand the candidate pool and assist in the vetting process.

“We’re honestly very careful at this point not to come to preformed conclusions,” Christiansen said. “We encouraged the whole committee, although everyone has their opinion, to be really open and to be very careful before establishing the selection criteria. I think student-centered attention and a lot of the things mentioned are on all of our minds, but we’re really deliberate about not just pushing a program.

Along with the job advertisement, the search committee will use the current strategic plan and suggestions received during the screening of applications and interviewing candidates. After narrowing the pool of candidates to three to five candidates, the state board of higher education will select the new president.

All stakeholders are invited to submit their comments, questions and suggestions to the research committee by e-mail at [email protected], or use the committee website to learn more about the process. According to a press release, the Utah Board of Higher Education intends to appoint a new president by fall 2022.

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