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Choosing a President for Walla Walla University

Walla Walla University is at a crossroads. It is no secret that our financial security is tenuous. Recent enrollment trends have exposed a frightening lack of fiscal reserves and prompted extensive — and unfortunate — cuts in our academic departments and programs. While these operational difficulties are certainly cause for concern, there is an even deeper problem here. WWU is going through an identity crisis. This crisis extends throughout campus, rearing its head in everything from administrative decisions, to recruitment tactics, to lecture styles. The mark of a truly successful institution of higher education is a consistent and cohesive sense of identity and mission. In a unique way, it is the duty of the university president to identify this direction and do everything possible to push the institution toward its goals. During his tenure at WWU, President John McVay has done a good job identifying many of these problems. Unfortunately, his decision to step down means he won’t be able to personally usher in all of the solutions.

Given our current situation, the presidential search process is of utmost importance. The choice of a new leader is always a vital one, but in a time of crisis its importance increases exponentially. At this special time for Walla Walla University, The Collegian has put together a summary of some of the most important aspects we hope the search committee looks for in a presidential candidate.

Identify our Identity

This means that the president understands and is ready to adopt the existing vision of the students and faculty at WWU. In addition, of course, he or she must have the “know-how,” ability, and drive to make that shared vision become a reality. The vision for WWU shouldn’t come from outside of campus. There is a time and a place for advice and counsel from other sources, but first and foremost we must cling to the things that set us apart. Ours is a community committed simultaneously to religious faith and academic discovery. Our identity is something to be proud of, not something to cover up.

Advance our Endowment

Once the question of identity has been solved, the president’s greatest responsibilities are public relations, advancement, and fundraising. To date, this facet of WWU has been woefully lacking, a fact that President McVay himself has admitted openly. We need a president who won’t be afraid to dream big, and will then pursue large financial gifts with passionate zeal.

Commit to the Long Haul

There is a time and place for interim solutions. This isn’t it. Right now we need a presidential candidate capable of committing at least 10-15 years to the future of WWU. The kind of change we need will take some time to implement. Because of our need for longevity, we should be pursuing younger candidates; capable professionals with passion and energy to spare.

Be Political

Let’s face it, being the president of an Adventist university is a tough job. It’s not enough simply to be a strong academic leader. WWU’s next president must be familiar with church bureaucracy, and ready and able to navigate the often stormy waters of Adventist higher education. He or she doesn’t have to be a pastor, however. In fact, after a series of pastor presidents, perhaps it’s time to try something else. A background in business or academic administration is almost always a better qualification for the job than a degree from the seminary.

Represent Us

Speaking for the students of WWU, it’s time for a president that engages us as equals, and is willing to fight for us on campus, in the community, and elsewhere. We’re tired of condescension, or, even worse, being ignored. It’s time for a president that takes the time to get to know us, interacts with us on the sidewalks and in the cafeteria, and shows an active interest in our lives. Leadership “in absentia” is no leadership at all.

Walla Walla University is a great place, full of promise and potential. There is no reason that our next president shouldn’t be able to maximize the things that make us great, while systematically eliminating our problems. We need a president who can learn from our past, lead our present, and build for our future. At such a time as this, we cannot afford anything less.

—This was originally published by the Editorial Board of Walla Walla University’s student paper, The Collegian. The following sit on its Editorial Board: Ian Field, Editor-in-Chief; Alexander Scott, Editorial Director; Bill Lenz, Opinion Editor; Bjorn Smars, Opinion Editor; Shanoah Maine, Opinion Editor; Deirdre Hackleman, Columnist; Miles-Erik Bell, Columnist.

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