First day of presidential search forums discuss diversity, leadership qualities


Matthew Kelly

Tulips bloom by the WIchita State sign at the 17th Street entrance.

Wichita State community members gathered virtually Wednesday at the first two presidential search forums to share concerns, questions, and thoughts about the presidential search with AGB search representatives Sally Mason and Garry Owens.

Leadership qualities, diversity, and pandemic complications were some of the topics brought up by community members.

An ‘in the middle’ president

Search committee member and Faculty Senate President Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn chimed in with his thoughts, adding that the committee needed to find a president that was in the middle ground.

“I notice there are two types of broad brush presidents,” he said. “One who sees themselves as completely sort of outward facing, and delegating everything to their executive team and their role is really just to be the public face of the university. And then there’s another kind of president who I think sort of sees themselves as an inward president and is just in the weeds of the work. 

“And I think we need a president who’s sort of in the middle.” 

Sternfeld-Dunn said that the university needs a president who not only does the inward work, but also goes outside of the university to spread the word about the university’s mission and goals.

“[We need a president] who is the public face of the university and is going out there and moving the mission and the vision and trusting his or her team to do that work,” he said. “But at the same time isn’t disengaged to what’s happening on campus that they’re not involved in sort of the day to day, kind of movement.”

‘A commitment to diversity’

Owens said that the firm is reaching out to candidates from diverse backgrounds to make sure the committee has a diverse group of individuals to select from.

“We take [diversity] into account in every search we do and we certainly are doing that in this particular one,” Owens said. “[We have been] reaching out to candidates we know about, we have a number of colleagues who can help us with that at AGB search. 

“We’ll do our very best on that to get a good selection.”

A desire to strengthen

When asked if the search firm has seen less applicants from different areas due to the pandemic, Mason said it has been the opposite.

“I was a little worried during the pandemic and during the lockdown that people would be reluctant to want to move,” Mason said. “And, quite the contrary, I think people are really now looking hard at opportunities in places where they would like to be and feel that they could have an impact.”

Mason said that the COVID-19 pandemic has given applicants a higher motivation to come to the university in hopes to make it stronger and push through the uncertainty.

“[There’s a] real desire, especially during a crisis, to see an institution not only whether through the crisis but can come out of the other side stronger through it,” Mason said.

A president who understands

Sternfeld-Dunn said that he believes it’s important to have a president who pushes the university forward, but understands the ins and outs of the university’s capacities. 

“We desperately want a president who looks past the branding of the university to really understand who we are and what we’re not and not try to make us what we’re not, but still knows how to move forward and progress,” he said. 

“We’re not saying we want to remain the same we’ve always been . . . we’re into innovation, we’re into transforming higher education, but within the scope of what we can do and what we can’t do.”

The search firm is holding one more virtual forum on Monday at 4 p.m. Individuals can join through a Zoom link and password posted on the Student Government Association’s social media.