Necessary qualities for next University president


By Brad Barber

Over the course of the next year, the University will be conducting a search for its next president. The members of that search committee will be asked to act like Congressmen in that they must represent their respective campus and the interests of the system at whole. Serving on this committee will not be an easy task, nor should it be.

The Board of Trustees has allotted our campus one student to represent our campus on the 19-member presidential search committee. Despite the fact that our campus and its 41,505 students are far more than the Chicago campus’ 27,589 or the Springfield campus’ 5,137, we have the exact same representation of one sole student. With this allotment, the Trustees have clearly stated that the student opinions of the Springfield campus are eight times more valuable than our Urbana campus. This is a challenge for our representative, but it can be overcome. 

The student will not be chosen through a Hunger Games-style student reaping, or by use of Toy Story’s “The Claw.” No, the student will be chosen by faculty senate and student government recommendations from each campus. Whoever this individual will be, he or she will come recommended for this position. Here are three things he or she needs to look for in the next president when representing our student body so that our students can be equally represented. 

First and foremost, our representative needs to look for a candidate primarily concerned about our campus. Our representative is selected to stand for our campus, not the other Illinois campuses. The other campuses’ futures are also important when selecting the next president — it is a position that governs all three — however our member needs to be focused on representing the interests of those he or she has been selected to serve.

We cannot afford to have our representative sacrifice our student body for the concerns of the other two student bodies. The other student representatives will likely speak on behalf of their campus in this way, so we must have ours do the same, which would result in all three campuses having equal representation. 

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An example of where the emphasis on the Urbana campus will come into play is in the restoration of Illini athletics to national prominence. It is no secret that fans often come to our major sporting events out of blind loyalty or to watch the other team play. We need a president that is willing to devote the time and resources to not only continue the renovations in progress, but to grow the athletic programs, instead of focusing these efforts on the other two campuses.   

Our campus needs are not a point that can be compromised on because if they are, they will never be considered.

Secondly, the business acumen of the next president is the most important professional characteristic. The nation still has not fully recovered from the disastrous financial climate of a few years ago. Higher education was hit particularly hard, and relying on public funds was not an option for the University. 

If we do not have a president that is a savvy businessman, the students will feel these effects. The president is directly responsible for overseeing the finances of the University and staying within the budget. Projected long-term shortfalls in the budget will only cause programs to be cut or tuition to rise. For the sake of our interests, we need someone that can find and eliminate waste and recognize failing (or under-performing) projects. This will allow for the most efficient redirection of funds. 

The financial health of the University is the health of the University as a whole — we need someone that can properly manage that.

Finally, we need someone that can stay with the University long-term. There has been a lot of turnover in the presidential position in the last decade — five presidents since 2005, if you include the interim. That kind of turnover rate in any high-up administrative position is alarming because the administration lacks the guidance and development that a stable hand at the helm can bring. At the presidential level, this type of turnover rate can be warning signs of the Board’s inability to pick the right person for the job or serious troubles with the position itself.

We do not need to be going through this process again in three years, nor should we want to. 

Our representative needs to be evaluating the candidates by looking at if they can stay long-term. This can be done by examining the vision that the candidate has for the future of the University — are they short-term or long-term goals? This can also be determined by the vitality of the candidates. Although it is unfair to determine vitality strictly on age, it can be a helpful factor in deducing if the individual is a long-term fit when paired with the lifestyle the candidate currently lives.

Our student representative will have a tough task ahead. Prioritizing a candidate that is focused on helping our campus, has the best business credentials and has prospects for longevity will ensure the search is a success for our campus.  

Brad is a graduate student in Law. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @b_rad_barber.