ALAMOSA — “We are at a crossroads … We may find we don’t need a railroad conductor. We need a spaceship driver.” — Reeves Brown, Adams State University trustee.
Adams State trustees on Thursday began the process of finding the next “spaceship driver” to lead the university. With the departure of Dr. Beverlee McClure and Interim President Matt Nehring committed to serve in that post until the end of June, the trustees are feeling the pressure to get the process moving to fill the president’s post.
The trustees held a special meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss wording and process, with the outcome of the session being the designation of a presidential search process committee headed by Trustees Kathy Rogers and Michele Lueck, consensus of the trustees to fill the position with an interim at this point, and the plan to meet again the week of April 23 to review proposals from the search process committee.
The trustees also talked about the kind of person Adams State needs going forward, specifically in light of the current financial, enrollment and retention challenges facing the university.
The trustees and Dr. Nehring also talked about the need to bring someone on board, either from internally or externally, who would not have a huge learning curve regarding higher education, Adams State and rural communities like Alamosa’s.
For example, Dr. Nehring said one of the best interim presidents Adams State had in the past 20 years was Dr. Lee Halgren who had served as the president of The State Colleges of Colorado and served ASU as an interim for about a year and a half. “He knew higher education … and was able to make tough decisions,” Nehring said.
The trustees talked about their immediate need being for an interim president who may or may not be the person who would be best long-term. They also reviewed the requirements Adams State had listed in its last search for a president and how those might have changed since then.
For example, the summary of what the university was seeking last time around mentioned political skills. Trustee Pam Bricker said with the current fractured climate politically, she was not sure political skills were attributes the university wanted. Rogers said the skills trustees were searching for at that time related more to skills needed to deal with legislators governing higher education funding. Bricker agreed that Adams State needed to be aware and involved in legislation that affected its funding.
Trustee Board Chairman Cleave Simpson said maybe the wording could be changed to reflect engagement at the legislative level. Trustee Randy Wright said during the last search the board had even talked about having two positions one of which would focus on legislative issues.
The previous presidential search also included wording seeking someone who would conduct or develop strategic planning assessment, data collection, technology updates, innovative academic programs and marketing. The trustees said the president’s job might include oversight of those improvements but not direct involvement, as there are other staff capable of that.
Brown said he believed the president’s responsibilities need to reflect a priority to work with the board of trustees, have a strong relationship with the board and keep the board informed.
The summary for the last presidential vacancy announcement also called for an academic leader, and the trustees talked about whether or not the candidates needed to have an educational background or if a good business and leadership background were enough. Simpson said the president would need to be able to lead an academic institution, regardless of the person’s background.
Nehring said he believed there were plenty of people who could serve as a good leader of an institution of higher education without having come up from the educational ranks themselves. However, he said other faculty disagreed.
Trustee John Singletary said there are examples of college presidents who did not have academic backgrounds but are excellent leaders such as the leaders at Colorado Mesa University, UNC and the University of Colorado.
Wright said, “A good leader is a good leader regardless of whether it’s in business or a higher education institute.”
Bricker said she believed the wording seeking an academic leader should remain because Adams State is an academic institution.
Lueck said the three areas she believed should be enhanced in the announcement summary were: relationship building in the community and in general; ability to work well with entities such as the Higher Learning Commission; and financial skills to deal with ASU’s current challenges.
Bricker agreed that the financial skills needed to be stressed, given ASU’s current situation. Simpson agreed that financial acumen would be important with the next president since the university has significant financial challenges still ahead of it.
He said although it would be nice if they could find someone who could walk on water, the reality is there would be candidates who would have more strengths in one area than another, and it was important for the board to prioritize the qualities it was seeking.
Bricker also talked about the need to find someone who had cultural appreciation and knowledge.
Simpson added that it was important for the next president to thrive in a rural setting and culture like Alamosa’s. One of the expectations of the position is to actively engage in the community, he added.
Wright added, “Really what we need is a president that wants to be a part of the community and culture.”
Nehring said faculty vacancy announcements include a question about how the applicant sees teaching at a small university like Adams State in a rural environment aligning with that person’s goals. Something like that could be asked of the presidential candidates as well, he suggested.
Bricker liked the idea. She added, “We don’t want someone to just use this as a stepping stone. You want someone who is a little bit more committed.”
Nehring added even if someone used it as a stepping stone, it would not be a successful stepping stone if the person did not do well in this small rural environment.
Lueck said she and Rogers would work on wording, following the recommendation of fellow trustees on Thursday. She said her sister works in the job search field, and she would ask her for some pointers as well.
Simpson said the past president of CSU Dr. Albert Yates has also offered his assistance. He and Rogers said several potential candidates had reached out to them, and the board could discuss that pool in a future executive session.
Lueck said the process needs to allow for transparency as well, and community meetings might be a part of the process.
The trustees talked about the key needs of the university right now. Some of those include improving enrollment, retention, the university’s financial condition and the relationship between the president and board.
Trustee Rogers said the vacancy announcement could be clear about what the board’s priorities are, and the candidates could tell the board during their interviews how they might “help us get there.”
Caption: At a special Adams State University board of trustees meeting on Thursday are clockwise from left Student Trustee John Owsley, Trustees Donna Griego and Kathy Rogers, Executive Assistant to the President/Board of Trustees James Trujillo, Trustee Randy Wright, Interim President Dr. Matt Nehring, and Trustees Pam Bricker and Cleave Simpson./Courier photo by Ruth Heide