Presidential Hopefuls Court TU Community

by Jake Hawkins

Transylvania University will soon have a new president.

The two finalists, Dr. Owen Williams of Yale University and Dr. Joseph Bruno of Wesleyan University, each spent time on campus this week meeting members of the community and fielding questions at three separate forums, each geared towards faculty, staff or students.

First-year Lyman Stone asked Bruno at the student forum on Tuesday to discuss exactly what distinguishes a liberal arts education.

“I don’t think a liberal arts education means faculty talk and you listen, or faculty teach and you learn. I hope it’s a two-way street,” answered Bruno. “We do believe that you all are here as part of a learning community teaching each other as much as faculty are teaching you. So I think that’s part of what residential liberal arts colleges have to offer.”

Later in the forum, SGA president Jacob Brumfield, a senior, asked Bruno how he would maintain a balance between on- and off-campus responsibilities.

“A president does have to travel, does have to meet with donors, and I think the primary responsibility of the president is really to represent two things on campus: the accomplishments of the faculty and the accomplishments of the students,” Bruno said.

He also added that the balance between a president’s on- and off-campus duties “is somewhere in the general range of 50-50.”

After the forum sophomore April York responded to Bruno’s description of the president’s role on campus.

“I feel like President (Charles) Shearer is a lot more on campus and more involved in our community than maybe (Bruno) sees of the role of president,” York said.

Brumfield also prompted Williams, who spoke with students on Thursday, to explain how he would divide his time between on- and off-campus roles.

Williams called the presidency an “internal and external job,” but he stressed, “It’s important in my mind that any college president be very active on campus, if for no other reason than that they can’t possibly represent what the college is about to others without it.”

Williams told students that his decision to return to academia after a successful career in the financial sector has made him the happiest he has ever been.

“It wasn’t but a few months ago that I too was a student,” said Williams, who obtained his doctorate in history from Yale University in December 2009.
Williams also discussed the liberal arts philosophy.

“A liberal arts education is not about the answers, it’s about the questions,” said Williams, paraphrasing Transy political science professor Dr. Jeff Freyman in “What is Liberal Education?” This article was published in the fall 2009 edition of the Transylvania University Magazine.

Josh Edge, a sophomore, asked Williams about his “lack of teaching experience.” Williams’ résumé includes teaching four courses.

“I’ve done not as much teaching as a lot of your teachers but enough to have a tremendous respect for it,” Williams said.

Though the search is coming to a close, there is work left to be done, according to Dr. Susan Pierce, the presidential search consultant.

“Next week, the search committee will review the feedback from those who met the two candidates, … share information gleaned from additional reference-checking and decide on next steps,” Pierce said. “Because each stage of the search takes time, it is not possible now for me to predict when an announcement will be made other than that the campus will learn of the appointment as soon as an offer has been made and accepted.”

Dr. Jack Furlong, a faculty member on the search committee, stressed, “There is no date certain (for the final decision).”
When asked about what steps the committee will be taking to reach the final decision, junior Grant Buckles, the student representative on the search committee, declined to comment.

Now that both candidates have had an opportunity to meet with various campus constituencies, the decision is in the hands of the presidential search committee, which is requesting feedback. A link to a survey requesting responses to each candidate is available on Inside Transy under the “Presidential Search” heading.

President Shearer plans to retire from the presidency on June 30, 2010.


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