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Experts offer advice for next Wright State president

Wright State’s next president will have to deal with issues unique to the university as well as those that affect colleges across the country, state leaders and college presidents said during a presidential search symposium Wednesday.

The symposium’s panel of experts talked about the biggest challenges Wright State’s eighth president will encounter.

Included on the panel were University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber; Bowling Green State University President Mary Ellen Mazey; state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering; and state Rep. Mike Duffy, R-Worthington.

Sinclair Community College President Steven Johnson moderated the panel discussion.

The symposium at Oelman Hall is part of Wright State’s presidential search that is scheduled to conclude in April.

The search committee will use opinions offered Wednesday to help determine a “profile” for the ideal job candidate, said Doug Fecher, search committee chair and vice chair of the board of trustees.

Facing issues

Wright State’s finances recently garnered attention when the school had to give up hosting the first presidential debate because it did not raise enough money. WSU also is under federal investigation for its handling of an H-1B visa program.

Those issues, panelists said, should motivate the best candidate for the job.

Even the country’s best institutions have challenges, Gaber said. She mentioned how some of Harvard’s dining halls are closed while cafeteria workers are on strike.

“OK, there are a couple issues … Every campus has a set of issues and there may be some surprises along the way,” Toledo’s president said.

Panelists agreed that the search committee should be upfront about Wright State’s recent troubles.

“People will have questions and you should be as forthright as possible,” Lehner said.

Student debt

Gaber and Mazey said presidents need to make student loan debt a priority and explore ways to save students money.

At Toledo, Gaber said she has tried to eliminate overlaps in administrative roles while Mazey said BGSU has outsourced services such as its health center.

“I think we’re all looking at our operations to see where we can reduce overlap,” Gaber said.

Paying for college can be a huge drain on students’ wallets, said Inter-University Council of Ohio President Bruce Johnson, adding that presidents should encourage the federal and state governments to provide more grant money for students.

“(College) used to be a luxury item and now it’s a necessity,” he said.

Work with Columbus

Bruce Johnson said the state has made a mistake by pulling money from higher education.

“The state has always under-invested in higher education,” he said. “It’s a tragic mistake. We should at least aspire to be like West Virginia and Mississippi.”

Mazey, who previously served as a dean at Wright State, said she remembers when the school received 60 percent of its funding from the state and that BGSU now only receives 22 percent from the state.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio’s per-student spending dropping from $5,627 in 2008 to $5,078 in 2015. The national average in 2015 was $6,996.

Changes in funding will require WSU’s next president to increase donations and connect with alumni who want to support their alma mater, panelists said.

Duffy said legislators in Columbus and Gov. John Kasich have been pushing to make college more accessible and affordable, but that university leaders need to work with them to fine-tune their approaches.

“We’re throwing a lot against the wall to see what sticks,” Duffy said.

Embrace innovation

Changes in technology have presented challenges in the classroom, but panelists said the next president should embrace innovation.

“How do we innovate along the way?” Gaber said.

Panelists said the university needs a president who is not stuck in the past or will run Wright State like it’s “the 1950s.”

Technology means that universities have a larger population to serve and Wright State’s president needs to understand how to offer the best programs and opportunities to students who may not be sitting in a physical classroom, officials said.

“We have to look at the world as our marketplace,” Mazey said. “We have to figure out how to position our institutions for the future.”

Create community

The next president needs to be able to “hit the ground listening,” Mazey said.

Every official on the panel agreed that getting to know the students and members of the surrounding community is necessary in order for Wright State to flourish.

The next president should take a “team approach” to solve problems, panelists said.

That means finding ways to collaborate with other colleges and private companies to save money and provide the best education possible, Gaber said.

Gaber said Toledo works with Bowling Green to share programs and resources.

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