By Alison Smith
Last week members of the campus and surrounding community were introduced to the three MSUM presidential candidates, marking a decisive time in the search for the next leader to represent the university.
Forums allowed administrators, staff, faculty, students and the public to hear what each candidate would bring to the position as well as address any questions or concerns one may have.
Candidates include Anne Blackhurst, MSUM, and Sam Minner, Radford (Va.) University, both currently serving as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and Carlos Vargas-Aburto, Kutztown (Pa.) University, currently serving as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.
Both Blackhurst and Minner noted their connection to MSUM through their own experiences in higher education.
“I witnessed firsthand, in my family, the difference that a college education can make within the span of a single generation,” Blackhurst said of being a second-generation college graduate.
Minner said the “Moorhead story” of education was similar to his own experience of being a first-generation college student with neither of his parents receiving a high school education. He admits to not being highly motivated in high school which left him ill prepared for college.
“I really stand before you today because of folks like that who I sense are very similar to people you interact with here,” he said. “I’m a living, breathing embodiment of the power of public higher education.”
Students presented a number of issues during the forum regarding current budget deficiency, athletics, campus sustainability, student leadership and the overall atmosphere and culture of the university.
“I would do everything I could to make sure we had quality athletic teams,” said Blackhurst, an already strong supporter of MSUM athletics. “People make attributions about the quality of the university importance of athletics for both athletes and non-athletes. “If done well … (it’s) very important for the institution in general to symbolize the best of what goes on here.” Vargas-Aburto focused his talk on student success and ensuring MSUM is a “student-centered organization.”
Kevin Struxness, Student Senate president, agreed with Vargas-Aburto and said currently MSUM has a “serious problem with customer service.”
Vargas-Aburto said this would require a cultural shift at the administrative level. “We need to work to see what it is that we need to do internally to change that culture,” he said. “What is it that keeps people treating students in a way that is not appropriate.”
For Vargas-Aburto, this involves a sense of mindfulness at the student and administrative level.
“When we are evaluating something, we (should be) mindful of the implications that it has, not only for our own area, but for everyone else,” he said.
All candidates stressed the importance of branding the university in a positive way to the public.
“How are we excellent and how are we distinctive?” Minner asked. “If that’s not crystal clear we need to work on that.”
Blackhurst spoke of her plans to be involved in the F-M community. “When people see the president as visible, then suddenly the university is visible in a way it wasn’t before,” she said. “When the president’s not there, the university just isn’t top of the mind.”
“We need to be more active in communicating to the community out there that we are here, who we are and what we do,” Vargas-Aburto said.
The decision will be finalized at the MnSCU Board of Trustees’ April 23 meeting; the individual selected will take office July 2014.