Public weighs in on qualities next Winthrop president should possess

adouglas@heraldonline.comSeptember 14, 2012 

Winthrop University’s next president might have to be one “who walks on water,” one 1950’s Winthrop alumna said on Friday afternoon.

Search consultants helping Winthrop find its 10th president heard from more than 100 people on what they want to see in the school’s next leader.

Most people at Friday’s hearing said they wanted a personable president and someone who could relate to them – a tall order to find a president who enjoys attending student activities, listens closely to faculty and staff and has the political know how to strengthen ties in the local business community and state Legislature.

A wish-list emerged as groups addressed the consultants at the college.

Top on the students’ priority list: hire a leader focused on bonding with students and supporting their activities outside of class.

Allie Jensen told the search consultants that students want to see their president walking around on campus – something they don’t see now.

Chris Aubrie, a member of Winthrop’s student government, said he’d like for Winthrop’s next president to attend the student group’s weekly meeting occassionally.

One student said she hoped the search committee wouldn’t pick a president accustomed to leading a large university because Winthrop’s size is what makes it special compared to other big, in-state colleges.

Jan Greenwood, president of the search firm Greenwood/Asher and Associates, said she understood that logic because leading “the bigger universities are like running a city.”

Some Rock Hill residents said they wanted a politically savvy president and one who could make things happen at the state and local level.

Jason Broadwater, president of downtown Rock Hill internet marketing company Revenflo, said Winthrop’s continued commitment to development in the city’s “Old Town” and “textile corridor” areas is crucial.

“I hope the new president shares President (Anthony) DiGiorgio’s vibrant vision,” he said.

Lynn Moody, superintendent of Rock Hill school district, said she’d like for Winthrop to hire another president who values university students’ involvement in local public schools.

Collaboration between the university and K-12 schools is important, Moody said, for training the next generation of teachers and providing role models for young students.

Nearly 70 faculty and staff members attended – many of them saying Winthrop’s next president needed to heighten the university’s focus on academics and students.

“A president is a president, he’s not a governor,” said Robert Prickett, Winthrop English professor. “He’s not a politican.”

Another faculty member told the consultants, “Student-centered is not just a motto here – it’s something everyone who works here lives.”

Jennifer Disney, political science professor and director of a university office that assists students in landing academic scholarships, said Winthrop has a trend of attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and telling them the “sky’s the limit.”

The university shouldn’t lose focus though, she said, on helping students with the best grades finance their education.

Others echoed Disney’s opinion, saying Winthrop hasn’t done well recently in recruiting students from middle-class income homes.

Winthrop’s financial aid director, Michelle Hare, said the university desperately needs more money to grant school-funded, need-based scholarships.

Based on what she heard Friday, Greenwood said it’s clear that it’s “very much an engaged president we’re looking for.”

“A president who wants to stay in his or her office ... will not be acceptable (at Winthrop),” Greenwood said.

Hiring a president to take over after DiGiorgio’s 24th year at Winthrop could mean having a new leader stay for just three to five years, Greenwood said. Nationally, the trend for successors to presidents with that amount of longevity shows that, she said.

The reason for a short stint following a president with two decades in office, she said, is usually because of a school’s adjustment period.

New presidents can “trip” over very basic things like communication preferences between their office and others after so many processes were conducted the same for so long.

A purposeful transition can lessen some of that concern, Greenwood said.

Winthrop plans for a substantial lapover between the outgoing and incoming president by hoping to announce its new leader by April 2013.

Advertisements for Winthrop’s upcoming vacancy starting appearing in national publications and on websites this month.

Greenwood said she and her colleagues could make as many as 500 phone calls as applications and nominations start to roll in.

The search for a university president is “labor intensive,” Greenwood said.

“We’re going to work everyday until you have exactly the right candidate.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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