By: Gabriel Donahue, News Editor
Many students said they hope Towson University’s next president has a student-centered mindset during a Town Hall regarding the ongoing search for Towson’s next president held Monday by University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman.
To gain campus feedback, the System routinely hosts Town Halls while searching for a new president at one of its 12 institutions.
Now tasked with finding a replacement for former-President Kim Schatzel, who left Towson in February, Perman, alongside members of the presidential search committee Hugh Breslin and Ellen Fish, took questions and comments from the in-person and virtual audiences, which totaled about 235 people.
“We’re here to discuss what makes Towson so special and what you need in your next leader to keep that excellence going, to keep building on the work of President Schatzel,” Perman said.
One virtual participant said they wanted “a university president who understands academics, enrollment, student affairs, community involvement and most importantly, someone who understands that students are the reason why we’re here and should have priority.”
Others, including Jayden Johnstone, the director of civic engagement and sustainability for the Student Government Association, hoped to see more visibility from the new president.
“I think that visibility has kind of waned a little bit, at least among the student body, and I think a good quality for the next president to have would be, you know, visibility: showing up to school events, being out and about the campus, going to the Union which is a huge new grand shiny space that students are always in,” Johnstone said.
This suggestion echoes the critiques some students had of Schatzel. Some felt she lacked connection with the student body and campus overall, The Towerlight reported.
Johnstone also hopes to see the new president address the shortcomings of on-campus housing, such as price and availability. Towson is considered by some to be a commuter school, which Johnstone says makes campus life suffer.
Perman said he had never heard that critique and would keep it in mind.
Multiple attendees, including student Hunter Scheelar, pointed out problems on campus that they hoped to see the new president address.
Scheelar brought up Schatzel’s silence on issues such as the student group Turning Point USA inviting a former League of the South member to campus and the hateful messages that leaked from the club’s group chat.
“You need to select a president who’s committed to action,” he said. “Not meaningless action that is just some paper words or a press release … Accountability should be what is happening on campus. They should not be afraid to make statements frankly because they wanna remain bipartisan. They need to be able to stand up for what is right.”
Alternatively, professor Bonnie Brown of the College of Education questioned whether it was the place of the president to make statements about potentially troubling current events.
“I believe that under the last president, students were bombarded nearly daily with emails concerning world crises, and I don’t know that that fared well with them,” Brown said. “There’s a difference between advocating and maybe having a strong opinion, or actually maybe scaring students.”
Many attendees expressed concern about how the new president will prioritize students, specifically relating to the University’s aspiration to receive an R2-Doctoral Carnegie Classification. This requires TU to award 20 research doctorate degrees and spend an annual $5 million on research, according to an article from The Towerlight.
The concern is that the president will be too invested in attaining the R2 classification that things like student success programs will wane in priority.
“How will the University balance remaining a student-focused institution and maintaining our successes in our high graduation rate among underserved groups while trying to focus more on research?” one participant asked.
Perman assured the audience that the search committee and the Board of Regents would choose someone who will grow the institution’s research capacity to the advantage of the students and faculty.
“I’m not telling you that in order to try to win anybody over, get a medal, or whatever,” he said. “I’m just saying that if I didn’t believe that being faithful to being equitable is compatible with being stars in education and research, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Other concerns included issues surrounding diversity, inclusion and accessibility. Some also advocated for support for military students and those on other Towson campuses, such as TUNE in Harford County.
To the suggestion that the new president should be a person of color, Perman said that option is always on the table. Towson has never had a person of color serve as its president.
He explained that the search committee will meet with groups representing students, faculty and staff, as well as university leadership and partners. Using the input from events such as the Town Hall and an online survey, the committee will search nationally and conduct interviews with candidates.
A list of finalists will be developed and shared with the chancellor, and the Board of Regents will make the final decision. Perman said he hopes to appoint the new president before the next school year begins.
“I’m confident we can conduct a high-quality search within the coming months and get you the leader that you deserve,” he said.
Fish said this Board has selected nine of the 12 USM presidents since her appointment to the Board of Regents in 2016. She called it the most important job out of everything the Board does and emphasized their commitment to choosing the best leader.
“We’re gonna get a lot of candidates [whose] background says they’re very qualified,” Breslin, a fellow Regent, said. “But our challenge is gonna be [to] identify who the best leader of those candidates is going to be.”
Students and staff are encouraged to send their input to the search committee using the link on the president search webpage.