Students weigh in on the presidential search

Jill O'Brien

A forum specifically for student input on the search for Iowa State’s 16th president took place last night. 18 students were in attendance from all ages, including Student Government President Cody West and Graduate and Professional Student Senate President Vivek Lawana, the only two students on the presidential search committee. 

Jim McCormick from AGB Search, the search firm in charge of finding the next president, started the evening by laying out the timeline of the search process. In the ‘pre-search’ process, “We get onsite,” McCormick said. From July 6 to the end of August, they generate presidential nominations, with candidates sending in letters, detailed resumes and five references. From there, eight to ten semifinalists are chosen for interviews, and between three and five candidates then come for campus visits. McCormick also stated that Lawana and West would provide student feedback and have input on which candidate students preferred. 

However, the search firm does not have all of the say in who becomes the next president. “We are not the decision makers,” McCormick stressed, emphasizing the importance of student input in the process.

The evening’s discussion focused around three main questions. What are they, and what students had to say about them, is below.

If you were unable to attend and want to give input, you can email the committee at [email protected]

Question 1: What are the challenges this university faces?

A doctoral candidate who introduced themselves as Wesley started off the evening by bringing some of the student body’s main concerns.

“Significant budget constraints and increasing tuition. Last week, tuition increased for in-state students,” Wesley said. Budget was one of the many points hit multiple times throughout the evening, but another was social justice. “Not because of the current political climate, but because Iowa State has a history of racism, of white supremacy,” Wesley also said. 

The others present echoed Wesley’s sentiment, agreeing that things could be improved when it comes to underrepresented or marginalized groups on campus. Some mentioned how moving Student Disability Services off campus put disabled students at a great disadvantage, but Lawana mentioned how “graduate students are marginalized, to an extent,” telling of an instance where he felt that former President Leath did not see graduate students as students who still reap the benefits of researching and teaching at Iowa State.

However, Michael Tupper, junior in agricultural business and agricultural engineering, brought a separate, but interesting point: that the president of a university is in a position of service.

“He works for us, he’s part of the culture,” Tupper said. “You have to be able to trust the person captaining the ship.”  

Question 2: What characteristics/credentials do they need?

The word of the night here was ‘visibility.’

“Being more visible on campus,” Lawana said. “This isn’t a job they can clock in and out of. This will be their life.” 

Another buzzword in the discussion was ‘transparency.’ Those present emphasized the need for a president who does not give “cookie cutter responses” to issues that arise on campus. They stressed the importance of not only admitting mistakes, but providing a plan for how to remedy them, or just plain honesty if something cannot be fixed at all. 

Tupper said what experience he felt a university president needs would come from a sitting president.

“Someone who’s been president of a university and helped them through tough times,” Tupper said.

Since college campuses deal with a host of issues, from sexual assault to rampant drinking culture, a president needs to deal with “the good, the bad and the ugly on campuses.” 

Question 3: Why would they want to come here?

Iowa State’s rich history and prestige as a land-grant school were mentioned, as well as the well-known colleges across campus, it all came back to students in the end. The closing statements of the evening related back to the importance of students in the selection process, and how having voices heard will lend a hand in the final decision. 

“We have very vocal students here,” said Cody West, addressing the 18 students, undergraduate and graduate alike, in the room. “Don’t take that for granted.”