The search begins: Staff, students weigh in on next president

Nathalie Tadena

In the search for NU’s 16th president, the university should choose someone who can connect faculty, students and administrators to create a better sense of community at Northwestern, students and faculty members said Thursday in two open forums.

More than 100 faculty and staff members, along with more than 20 students from the Evanston campus, attended the forums, with students separated from the faculty and staff. Similar open discussions were held for students and faculty on the Chicago campus Thursday.

The forums were held to “hear the viewpoints of different people” as the committee begins its search process, said William Osborn, chair of the presidential search committee. The committee’s first meeting will take place today.

In March, University President Henry Bienen announced his plans to step down in August 2009. A search committee composed of several members of the Board of Trustees, along with faculty, staff, alumni and two students, was announced in April to conduct the search for Bienen’s successor.

Osborn, a vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the forums were “absolutely successful.”

Several members of the search committee were present, including students Sharanya Jaidev and Marianne Wanamaker; professors Laurie Zoloth, Daniel Diermeier and Mark Ratner; and trustees Lester Knight and David Weinberg.

Marilyn McCoy, vice president for administration and planning, and representatives from Spencer Stuart, an educational firm hired to assist the search committee, also attended the forums Thursday.

Though students attended a separate forum, “there was a lot of overlap between faculty and staff members’ concerns and what students had to say,” Osborn said.

Attendees had the opportunity to comment on qualities they believe the next president should have and ask questions committee members about the search process. Attendees represented a range of different departments, schools and student groups.

“The president of the university affects everyone – staff, students and faculty,” said Njoki Kamau, associate director of the Women’s Center.

Discussion in the faculty and staff forum included a president’s ability to improve NU-Evanston relations, diversity and the overall undergraduate experience.

Kamau, a graduate student at NU in the 1980s, said a lot has changed since then.

“I stood up to put the point out there that the committee should consider a woman as a candidate,” she said. “These are different times. Many of our peer institutions have female presidents, and there is a woman running for president of the U.S.”

Victor Roy, administrative coordinator for the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, said it was interesting to hear that many faculty and staff members had similar opinions.

“It was an important attempt to get people engaged,” said Roy, Weinberg ’07. “It’s mostly a closed process, which is understandable, but there’s always concern that goes with that.”

Many students said they wanted the next president to create more programs that would promote interaction between disciplines and improve the sense of community on campus.

“We are (the committee’s) constituency, and we should have a voice in this major decision,” said Mike McGee, Associated Student Government academic vice president. “We can’t talk about all student issues in one hour, but this helps further the dialogue.”

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