Presidential candidates present platforms and embrace campus community

Presidential candidate Kenneth Kitts interacts with students, faculty, staff and the community during his presentation Oct. 16.

The next university president likely visited campus over the last week as three candidates met the campus and Florence communities.

Sandra J. Jordan, the current chancellor for the University of South Carolina Aiken; Kenneth D. Kitts, the current provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke; and Randall W. Hanna, the current chancellor for the Florida College System explained why he or she could best serve as the next top university leader.

The candidates were asked how they would respond to students’ concerns with campus safety, namely the lack of cameras in the parking deck.

“Safety and security for students is of utmost importance for a college campus,” Jordan said. “It’s awareness, personal responsibility and responsibility of the campus. We have to have zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment or attack.”

Jordan said security cameras are a great tool, but they are more of a reactive approach to safety.

“Parking decks and underpasses are obviously difficult to see every nook and cranny, but safety and security is a responsibility of the university and students themselves,” she said.

She said she would make sure there are always police officers working to proactively ensure student safety.

“If it’s a priority for the students, it’ll be a priority for me,” Kitts said. “I think all the decisions on campus should revolve around what’s best for students.

“At the end of the day they are why we’re here. I understand that and I try to live by it.”

Kitts said campus safety and sexual assault are finally getting the attention they deserve nationwide, and because UNA and Florence have relatively low crime rates, the university has a great start.

“But it’s something you have to stay on top of and if there are some things that need to be enhanced, they should be enhanced,” he said.

Hanna said his current school system utilizes valuable safety assurances that would transfer well to UNA.

“In our system that’s something we’ve taken very seriously,” Hanna said. “We have worked with our colleges to make sure that they have the appropriate safe guards in place, the cameras, the security guards and the police officers.”

Hanna said he would work with university law enforcement to make sure they had the appropriate training and ensure they worked with other universities to make sure the best practices are in place.

“Parents do not send their children to college to have crimes committed,” he said. “Parents expect their children to be safe, so it would be a priority for me.”

The candidates were also asked how they would engage students to understand their needs and concerns.

“I think you have to invite people in,” Jordan said. “There are going to be some students who will offer their opinions willingly and without an invitation – they’ll send you an email, they can track you down and they know where your office is, and they’ll come calling and sharing their thoughts.”

But, most students need an invitation from faculty to participate, Jordan said.

She said at her current school, she has hosted a number of events, often in conjunction with SGA, to get students comfortable enough with her to share their concerns.

Those events, she said, include ice cream socials, bowling trips with the chancellor, and playing Ping-Pong in the on-campus game room.

“It gives me a chance to say: How are your classes going? Are you living in the dorm? How’s life on campus? What are you doing on the weekends?” she said.

Kitts named three things he would do to interact with students:

“As my schedule allows, and it would probably be crazy in the first semester or two, I do think it’s important for senior administrators to teach,” he said. “When you’re in the classrooms, you are picking up on student issues and concerns in a way that you wouldn’t if you’re not there.”

He said he would maintain regular communication with SGA, as it is the elected voice of the students. He also said he would like to develop a student advisory board of non-SGA members to hear concerns from a variety of student constituencies.

Hanna said in addition to working with faculty and staff to understand student concerns, a president must be directly involved with the students.

“I think a president needs to be visible,” Hanna said. “I think a president needs to be engaged. The president needs to be seen on campus and needs to have an open door.”

He said transparency is key to success as an administrator, and that is why he passed out his personal business cards on campus during his visit.

“That’s my personal cellphone number, and that’s my personal email,” he said. “That’s the way I approach things. I’m very transparent, and I’m very open.”

The candidates also discussed the struggles of public regional universities.

“There’s a lot of disruption in higher education right now,” Jordan said. “One of the great disrupters is technology.”

Jordan said as new technology becomes available and is adopted on college campuses, faculty, staff and students are forced to adapt.

“You have bodies of people who are working every day on a college campus and as the technology changes, they have to be retrained and retooled,” Jordan said. “It’s very disruptive.”

Kitts said limited money and resources are constant concerns for public regional universities.

“When state budgets hurt, university budgets hurt that are dependent upon the state,” he said.

The main way to address lack of funding is, “don’t accept that state funding cannot increase without fighting for more and making your case.”

He said UNA must do its part to make sure lawmakers understand its value to the state.

Hanna said enrollment, retention and graduation are some of the biggest issues facing higher education.

To alleviate those concerns he said he would “make sure we’re looking at the use of new technology that can be used by our faculty and put tools in the hands of students to help them make educational choices.”

Hanna praised the university’s First Year Experience Program and Student Success Center initiatives.