Students, staff and faculty ask for an open-minded president

Students, staff and faculty ask for an open-minded president

The first day of classes for all freshmen and returning students marked the start of last year for John Casteen as UVA president. Last June, Casteen announced he would step down at the end of summer, after 20 years at the helm of the University. 

On Tuesday, August 25, the Special Committee on the Nomination of a President began the first round of open forums geared toward gathering ideas, thoughts and expectation from students, faculty and staff members for the new president. What transpired from the first meeting was a desire to see the University grow to be a leader in internationalization, tolerance, racial equality and fair compensation for staff members.

UVA Rector John Wynne presided over the first round of presidential search forums. The Special Committee on the Nomination of a President is charged with recommending a candidate. Ultimately, the Board of Visitors will choose a new leader for the University. “This is the most important decision this Board will make in probably a decade or so,” said Wynne.

“This is the most important decision this Board will make in probably a decade or so,” said UVA Rector John Wynne, who is also the chairman of the committee. “We are going to take our time and do this right.”

And doing it right, some say, also means listening to what does not work for those who live UVA life on a daily basis.

“We would like to see a climate change and an atmosphere change here so that the University is not just the southern good old boy University that everyone thinks it is when they are applying,” said Seth Kaye, a second-year and co-president of Queer and Allied Activism. The current environment, he said, is neither welcoming nor inclusive for the increasing number of international and minority students. The new president should be a person who is “willing to support all the student body, all colors of the rainbow,” he said.  Members of the Minority Rights Coalition and of the Latino Student Alliance echoed Kaye’s sentiments.

A graduate student brought forth the need for a president willing and able to raise money, to avoid, she said, that the lack of adequate funds affects their wellbeing. Sometimes, she said, graduate students feel “overlooked.”

Staff members also feel somewhat overlooked. “I just don’t like the way employees are treated here at the University,” said Brad Sayler, who has raised concerns in the past about the lack of staff representation on the search committee and on the Board of Visitors.

“We need a president who knows that resolving the staff issues at the University is the best way to move the University forward.” Sayler told C-VILLE that while he is thrilled about the concerns students voiced, he is “disappointed” about the absence of staff members in the audience. “I feel like I am the lone voice in the woods here,” he says. “It’s not that I am angry, but I just think that we’re getting left out. We are not participating in the prosperity that this University is enjoying.”

To Sayler’s question of whether the committee would or could add a staff member, Wynne said that while the committee spent significant time discussing who should be included in the search, the group decided to appoint UVA Executive Vice President and COO Leonard Sandridge as the committee’s secretary. Sandridge, as the chief staff member, will be able to bring the staff perspective, said Wynne.

“I have a lot of respect for Leonard Sandridge,” says Sayler. “But I don’t think he has always taken staff issues to heart the way he should have and I don’t think staff issues are really brought forth to the Board of Visitors.” 

At the afternoon meeting at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, staff members were quiet and attentive. Among those who braved the crowd, Nancy Iverson, an assistant dean in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, told the committee that the new president will have to be savvy, have leadership, have a distinguished teaching record, and, above all, he or she must be “committed to the pursuit of knowledge.”

The search, Wynne explained, is structured in five phases: the first one, which began with the creation of the committee, dealt with finding a process that would enable all members of the University community to voice their concerns; the second phase is a gathering-information exercise from all constituencies. After gathering, the committee is charged with putting together a formal working profile for what the University is looking for in a president and gathering a pool of candidates. The final step is the selection process, which Wynne said, will be “critical and has to be confidential.”

The next forums will be held on September 1—at 7:30am at McLeod Hall Auditorium and at 4pm at Newcomb Hall Ballroom—and September 12 at 11am at the Alumni Hall Ballroom.

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