Story by Valentina Garcia, News Editor
Photo courtesy of Valentina Garcia
After spring break, the Aquinas community was able to meet the presidential candidates brought forth by the Presidential Search Committee. The candidates were very occupied while on-campus; they had up to four meetings per day. Student only presentations were held in the afternoons.
Majority of the time students were given with the candidates was used for questions and answers. Aquinas students were prepared with questions at every presentation; the most was made of the opportunity to converse with the candidates.
The four candidates are Dr. Stephen Barrows, Dr. James Loftus, Dr. Kevin Quinn and Dr. Matt Smith.
Dr. Stephen Barrows is the current Executive Vice President/Provost at Aquinas College. He first came to Aquinas as an economics professor; he might be best known for the popular April Fools’ Day prank video. Barrows talked about his vision for Aquinas.
“To be a president of a college, the most important thing is visionary leadership,” Barrows said. “I see that Aquinas College’s vision is that Aquinas College exists to continue to transform the lives of others through the gift of the Catholic Dominican education.” Barrows said he wants to continue this tradition.
Barrows also stressed his belief in the importance of listening and being approachable. “As provost, one of the things I’ve hoped I’ve been able to do is be a listening ear to the students from an overarching perspective, and not just from an academic perspective…” Barrows said he’s done this in the past by attending Student Senate meetings. Questions asked of him ranged from faculty retention to how he’d protect vulnerable students. Overall, his response to these questions was by listening.
Dr. James (Jamie) Loftus is currently the president at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Stritch has more commuting students than residential; this differs from Aquinas. What he would hope to accomplish as president of Aquinas is to continue the legacy of the Dominican Sisters.
Loftus had a strong emphasis on engagement and community, and this showed through his definition of success. “We want to help you discover what your greatest talents and skills might be, and then to utilize those to the fullest. That’s the definition of success I’ve carried through my professional life.”
When asked why he was leaving Cardinal Stritch, Loftus said it was because he felt an attraction for Aquinas. Irene, his wife, later added to this. She said, “We see something here that reminds us of Notre Dame.” Notre Dame is where they met.
When asked about sustainability, he admitted that was something he needs help with. He later added, “I’m not here to upset that. I find value in your commitment.”
The presentation was humorous and personal. “I try to use my sense of humor to create some kind of community,” Loftus said. This showed during the time he spent with students.
Dr. Kevin Quinn is the current Dean of the Donald J. Schneider School of Business and Economics at St. Norbert’s College in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In his presentation, Quinn first talked about the opportunities available at Aquinas and then addressed the issues we face.
“The number one issue that faces all private colleges is going to be how do we make sure that we are accessible and affordable,” Quinn said. He added, “if we make ourselves only accessible to people who are really wealthy we’re not really fulfilling the Catholic mission of the institution.” Quinn is concerned when it comes to finances. “The finances of Aquinas needs work,” he said. An example he used to highlight this is that faculty are not being paid as they should be.
Something Quinn finds really special about Aquinas is that it provides a liberal arts education and career preparation. “I think that the special sauce that is the Aquinas education…is…you are getting something that is far better rounded than you would at some giant university,” Quinn said.
Quinn was impressed with the size of the academic catalog. However, he went on to say that students might notice not all classes are offered anymore. “There probably needs to be some tightening up of those programs. I think there needs to be some investment in some of the programs that are really, truly central … to what you’re trying to do here.” Investment in programs is something that was brought up in most presentations.
Dr. Matt Smith was the final candidate on campus. He is currently a professor and the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the University of Saint Francis, which is located in Indiana. Smith focused on three things: vision, building academic distinction and brand distinction. His vision centers around building relationships and listening in order to build community.
“Building that academic distinction is a really important part of the next president’s agenda — it would be an important part of my agenda,” Smith said. Smith specifically mentioned growth in health care areas as well as in graduate programs.
Smith said challenges he has noticed at Aquinas include enrollment and student internships. “Every one of you should have an internship experience,” Smith said to students at the presentation. By building on Aquinas’ academic distinction, the challenges he named would diminish.
When asked about his stance on the sanctuary campus movement, Smith said, “…the Dominican institution…is committed to the idea of social justice…The other part of that is though…you also have to obey the laws of the land.” Smith said this is a conversation that has not been deeply had at his current institution, although they have signed a letter in support for DACA students.
When asked what his biggest asset is, Smith responded by saying his experience. He said, “I have a skill-set that would fit at certain places, Aquinas is one of those places.” Smith is attracted to the Dominican and Catholic tradition, as well as Grand Rapids; this is why he applied for the position. At the end of the presentation, Smith asked students what they want from the next president.
The presentations were a useful means through which students participated in the presidential search. This was taken a step further by being able to fill out a survey regarding the candidates after each presentation. Although the presentations came up rapidly and without much notice, the strong sense of community was seen through the fact that many students made time to attend the presentations and were prepared with questions. Aquinas students are engaged, and the candidates certainly noted this.
The CVs and biographies of each candidate can be found on The Moose. The Board of Trustees has selected a candidate, but an announcement will not be made until early April.
About the Writer:
Valentina Garcia is a second-year student who loves sunny days, Jane Austen, and preferred tea to coffee until she started college.