Tech searches: presidential finalists meet with community

The Tech community had the opportunity to meet the final three presidential candidates during forums held in the Nursing and Health Services Building’s auditorium, and via live stream, April 17-19.

All three candidates-Susan Elkins, Philip Oldham and Ralph V. Rogers-gave 50 minute presentations to Tech’s academic deans, University administrators, students, support staff and intercollegiate athletics staff and faculty. In their presentations, the candidates discussed their credentials, gave a general overview of goals for the University and participated in a question-and-answer session.

“There has been an online forum for each candidate where each person of the various groups can go in, and they can fill out a survey,” Carl Owens, College of Education professor and director of technology, said.

The Tech community can evaluate each of the candidates’ presentations at www.tntech.edu/specialreleases. To take the survey, select “Online Surveys for TTU Presidential Finalists.”

Susan Elkins

Elkins, Tech’s Extended Programs and Regional Development vice president and School of Interdisciplinary Studies dean, opened the forums on April 17.

Elkins emphasized the technological facet of the University, as well as the importance of producing K-12 teachers for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

“We certainly are a comprehensive regional University that serves students across the campus in a variety of majors, but our mission distinctiveness is technological, the technological University,” Elkins said. “So opportunities for the development engine for the future of this institution primarily rests with S.T.E.M. education since that is what sets us apart.”

She also stressed the importance of research at Tech.

“If you’re looking at a national footprint, it’s probably the research efforts that we’ve really got to focus on,” Elkins said. “We all know we are not generating the research that we really want to generate at this point in time, but there are resource issues.”

The threat of large class sizes was among issues raised during the faculty forum.

“I think we’re at a critical point where we’ve got to say, ‘how large can we be?’,” Elkins said about enrollment. “How many students can we serve in different majors? What can a class size be? Do we still need to increase enrollment, or are we maxed out?”

Philip Oldham

Oldham, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga provost and Academic Affairs and senior vice chancellor, held his forums on April 18.

Oldham emphasized size, quality of educational experience and total impact value as being critical issues for Tech.

“I think you have some language in your current plan that indicates growing to something like 15,000 in student enrollment,” Oldham said, in the forum with athletics staff. “I would agree with that, personally. I think that’s a good, wise thing for you to do.”

Oldham said that while some may think that quality and size act against each other, he argues that they do not. He said he believes that the size and quality of Tech play into its total impact value.

“[Tech’s impact value] certainly is through our students and the educational experience that they get here and the careers they are able to build based on that educational experience, but also it’s the scholarship that we produce,” Oldham said. “It’s the research that we do. It’s the new knowledge that we create that helps directly improve the lives of those we serve.”

The issues of a large student-to-faculty ratio and what can be done to fix it was among those raised to Oldham during the faculty forum.

 “In higher education, we can’t want to recreate what we used to look like,” Oldham said. “We have this tendency to always look backward and say, ‘oh, well we used to have 10 faculty, now we only have eight-somebody owes us two.’

“I believe the healthier approach is to say ‘forget what you used to look like. What do you need to look like five years from now or 10 years from now?’ What does that need to be? I’m a lot more interested in having a plan that says ‘here’s what we can do if we have the resources to support it.'”

Ralph V. Rogers

Rogers, Purdue University at Calumet Academic Affairs vice chancellor and mechanical engineering professor, wrapped up the forums on April 19.

Like Elkins and Oldham, Rogers began his presentation briefing each group on his background. However, Rogers was the only candidate who did not comment on general goals for the University before the question and answer session.

Faculty raised some of the same issues to Rogers that they did to Elkins and Oldham.

“How we increase diversity is really a good question and I would like to say, not diversity, but inclusivity,” Rogers said.  “Increasing diversity is about ‘how do I get people of different color and backgrounds to our campus?’ We can talk about that and there are strategies to do that, but what we’re really trying to do is to make this an inclusive culture.”

Rogers was also asked how he would bring funding to Tech in order to avoid the proposed issue of the large student-to-faculty ratio and the overuse of adjunct faculty.

“I will tell you flat-out that we are not going to get it from the state,” Rogers said. “What we do have to do is find our own ways of raising revenue, and that means being a little more entrepreneurial and being willing to look at things, perhaps a little differently.

“I will tell you the pressures are going to be to find new ways to teach more students with less resources. That is the expectation.”

The Next Step

Next, each of the 18 committee members will make a recommendation and give thoughts to the chancellor about each of the three candidates.

The chancellor and the governor will choose Tech’s next president.

“There is someone on the committee that represents basically every area of the campus-for example, athletics, or the staff, or the faculty, or the deans-so there will be someone who will collect the feedback from each of those groups and then they will advance that feedback when they speak with the chancellor,” Owens said.

Each candidate’s resume can be viewed at www.tntech.edu/president/search/. A live tweet of the forums can be viewed under Twitter hash tag ttu