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Communication, Reputation Discussed at Presidential Search Meeting

Suffolk University’s Presidential Search Committee held a town hall meeting last Tuesday to invite students to give input on what they believe to be necessary qualities and concerns for the university’s new president. Interdepartmental communication, university reputation, student and staff diversity, and financial aid were among the topics discussed.

John Brooks, chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, began the meeting by introducing the members of the committee present for the meeting. Among them were a handful of trustees and a representative from each the faculty senate, biology department, enrollment office, and Counseling, Health, & Wellness. Two employees of the global search firm Russell Reynolds Associates were also present to take notes.

The four questions shaping the afternoon’s discussion were as follows:

  • What are the key challenges and opportunities that Suffolk will face over the next 10 years?
  • What initiatives and strategies do you believe will be most critical to Suffolk’s success? Why?
  • What are the top 3 priorities for an incoming President?
  • What are the most important competencies, experiences, leadership qualities, and characteristics that you would seek in your next president to successfully lead the university going forward?

Brooks stressed the value the committee holds in getting the student body’s input on these topics, saying they are collecting information through an online survey, town hall meetings, one-on-one interviews, and webinars for alumni, along with maintaining an open-door policy.

“This is really an opportunity for all of you to give us your thoughts on what we should be thinking about, how we should be functioning as a committee,” said Brooks, adding that they hope to facilitate an open dialogue on the topic.

The topic that came up the most throughout the meeting was communication. Many students were worried about communication between departments at the university, as well as communication about the future of Suffolk’s organizational structure.

“The needs shift from an undergraduate student, a business student, and a law student, so I’m curious to know how the incoming president will handle some of the changes that have been implemented before them,” said Marcya Betts, a JDMBA student, commenting on how the university’s individual schools are no longer separated by academic buildings. “When people talk, it just seems like everyone is on a different page about different things.”

A senior Sawyer Business School student supported also felt there was lack of communication at the university. “One of my top priorities for an incoming president, for me, would be organization across the departments of the university,” he said. “We lack certain abilities that will make us great.”

Another popular topic was Suffolk’s reputation in light of the frequent leadership changes and local papers’ coverage of this. A first year law student was first to voice his concerns on that subject.

“I can tell you that the times that I’ve read about Suffolk University in the newspaper, it hasn’t been particularly positive lately,” he said. “So I think that whoever the next president is going to be, that president is going to need to have a good handle on public relations.”

Caryne Fernandez, another first year law student, was also concerned about Suffolk’s reputation, specifically since the university is in local competition with Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College. These universities offer programs that Suffolk doesn’t. Thus Fernandez said she wants a president who “understands the competition and tries to enhance the experience of the students in terms of what their goals are.”

Another law student was particularly concerned with the bar exam passage rate at Suffolk, which has been declining. “I love Suffolk,” she said. “I think it’s a great school, but I want it to be a great school after I graduate, especially in this area since we do hold such strong community ties.”

A trustee present said that this declination was due to the type of enrollment Suffolk maintained a few years ago, but a long term strategic plan was already in place to increase bar passage rates.

“One of the things we consider as we go through the process of searching for the next president, is not just to make sure that the current students have the best educational opportunity, but it’s also to think about how we strengthen the reputation of Suffolk for people who graduate from Suffolk,” added Bob Lamb, chairman of the Board of Trustees, in response to these concerns.

This worry about Suffolk’s reputation in the long run brought up issues regarding the university’s location, since the recent removal of the Donahue and Archer buildings makes Suffolk less of the Beacon Hill university it’s known to be.

“It seems like Suffolk’s losing its area,” said a first year graduate student, who also did undergrad at Suffolk. “Where does the committee, or even the next president, envision Suffolk? Where will we be in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years?”

While the board members present didn’t respond to this, a second year undergraduate student also voiced her concerns about space on campus.

“Space is a huge issue,” she said, referencing Suffolk’s large commuter population, who need areas on-campus to feel involved. “There’s a lot less space for clubs to program, for things to happen on-campus.”

Another student mentioned how it seems the Board of Trustees have a particular vision for the university, and so the incoming president should have experience working with a board. “The next president also has to have a lot of skills with respect to consensus and building consensus among other people, because they’re going to come in with their own vision as well,” he said.

One of the trustees agreed with him, noting that “trustees can’t just show up for cocktail parties” anymore like when he was in school, but are instead expected to be involved in university operations.

The controversial topic of diversity came up next, this subject on everyone’s minds after Latina student Tiffany Martinez was accused of plagiarism in one of her Suffolk courses. Marcya Betts voiced her support for the recruitment of minorities, mentioning that one of the reasons she chose Suffolk was because at the time their dean was a woman of color.

“It’s kind of hard being a minority sometimes in a building where there’s no one that really looks like you on a faculty and an administrative side as well,” said Betts. “The diversity lacks.”

Another student mentioned the need for a first generation college student program at the graduate level, which could help bring in students of more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

“There’s really, I think, less opportunity for a lot of different types of financial aid at the graduate level than at the undergrad level,” he said.

Another student echoed this concern, mentioning that tuition has been going up.

After all the students had voiced their wishes and worries for the future, Betts decided to lighten the mood by reminding everyone why Suffolk is still a great university.

“Don’t lose sight of the resources that are here, despite the challenges that are in the media,” she said. “Suffolk has a strong brand, and it needs to stay that way. And that’s why I’m here.”

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