Presidential Search Advisory Committee should listen to public desire for next president

Presidential Search Advisory Committee should listen to public desire for next president

The Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) at Grand Valley State University fielded concerns from the GVSU community Thursday, April 12, and Friday, April 13, to learn what students, faculty, staff, alumni and the general public are looking for in the university’s next president.

Ahead of GVSU President Thomas Haas’ retirement in 2019, the PSAC is tasked with finding a replacement for the university’s fourth president. The listening sessions were designed for the committee to be able to grasp the desired qualities in GVSU’s fifth president.

The listening sessions will prove to be beneficial for the GVSU community, provided the PSAC actually takes public opinion into account. This is one of the reasons Haas’ tenure at the institution has been applauded. Haas, for the past 12 years, has generally put the needs of students at the front of his administration’s agenda. 

Nearby, Michigan State University has served as a perfect example of what can go wrong when public opinion isn’t taken into consideration. The resignation of Lou Anna K. Simon, prompted by the university’s negligence in the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, led to the hiring of interim President John Engler. 

His handling of the university’s role in the scandal is next to unsuitable, too.

Engler has botched every step of the recovery process in the scandal. Katie Strang of The Athletic detailed his missteps in an article calling for his resignation. Engler has mocked survivors of Nassar’s abuse, as well as media outlets attempting to shed light on university policies, and has even derided attempts to pass progressive legislation that aims to prevent atrocities like the Nassar scandal from happening again.

Even worse, Engler offered a survivor a $250,000 payment to try to get a settlement with the university.

“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now if I wrote you a check for $250,000 would you take it?’” said survivor Kaylee Lorincz during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting Friday, April 13, per a Deadspin article. “When I explained that it’s not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, ‘Well give me a number.’”

Engler’s appointment has been a disaster. It’s painfully apparent now, but student and faculty leaders largely objected his placement at the helm of MSU in January. The MSU faculty senate gave a vote of no confidence in the Board in February.

Now, with even more negative light being placed on the institution, the MSU Board’s failure to heed the advice of students and faculty is damaging the university even more.

At GVSU, Haas’ retirement doesn’t reflect Simon’s forced resignation in the slightest. His tenure, which has proven to be largely beneficial for the university and higher education in the state of Michigan, will be lauded without scandal. 

Still, leaders like Haas don’t grow on trees. The PSAC would do well to listen to the GVSU community’s wishes for its next leader.