Column | Penn State students hope for a caring new leader

By Christopher Parks StaleyJune 25, 2013 

Like many others, I have devoted the majority of my working life to Penn State and have a vested interest in its future.

Due to unprecedented events, the selection of the new Penn State president will have implications that extend beyond the usual hiring of a college president. The type of person chosen by the search committee will send a message that will reflect the values and priorities of the university.

The stakes are high because, more than anyone else, the new president will have the opportunity to move Penn State forward beyond the struggles of the past two years into a brighter future.

So what type of person should Penn State select as its next president?

While teaching one of my art classes composed of mostly Penn State juniors and seniors last spring, I asked the students what qualities they would like the new president to have.

Here are some of their suggestions and comments:

• One student said, “Optics are important. PSU should hire a woman because the university is perceived as the bastion of the good old boys!”

• “Don’t hire a workaholic; they don’t have time to reflect and ponder the larger picture or the nuanced implications of events.”

• The majority of the students said honesty was the most important quality in the new president.

• “Someone with true humility rather than a sense of their own importance.”

• Students said the president should be empathic, accessible, inquisitive, flexible and have a wide range of interest.

• “The new president should know they are coming into a wounded community and lead with compassion.”

• “Someone who really listens and is genuinely interested in what students say.”

• “A leader who will do what is best for the school without a personal agenda.”

• “The new president should excel at communicating both to large audiences and one on one.”

• “Should grasp how rapidly electronic technology is transforming how we interact with each other for better and worse.”

• “A love for learning about other people.”

The students are the reason Penn State exists.

I thought it made sense to ask for their opinions given the amount of time and money they are investing in their college education.

The students’ comments are worth considering as the search committee deliberates on who will be selected as the next president of Penn State.

Christopher Parks Staley is a distinguished professor of art in the School of Visual Arts at Penn State. Readers may write to him at cxs41@psu.edu.

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