Presidential Search Committee holds public forum

Photo by Jon Long

Undergraduate and graduate students gathered together to have their expectations for the next president with the Presidential Search Committee on Wednesday. Current President Peterson announced his plans on Jan. 7 to step down from the position by the end of summer 2019 after ten years of serving as president for the Institute. 

The Presidential Search Committee, formally named on Jan. 31, consists of regents, Tech faculty and staff, presidents of the graduate and undergraduate student associations and business and community leaders — in line with state policy. Assisting with the search is the consulting group Heidrick & Struggles, an international executive search firm. Altogether, their purpose is to eventually provide the Board with a handful of names that they believe meet the school’s standard.

On Wednesday, the committee invited all students to a forum where they could voice their opinions on the characteristics needed in the next president. A panel of three sat on stage asking for student input: two representatives from Heidrick & Struggles and committee chair and Regent Benjamin J. Tarbutton III. Each stressed how important student input was in their search, and students were prepared to speak — both with compliments and complaints about the university. 

The estimated 50 students in attendance had various comments regarding their experiences and their wishes for the fuvture. Made up of various backgrounds ranging from fields of science and engineering to the college of liberal arts, members of the crowd had just as diverse opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the Institute. 

Austin Kennedy, an industrial engineering student, was originally committed to the University of Georgia, but he was eventually “won over by the value of a Tech engineering degree.”

Graduate SGA Executive Vice President and Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts graduate student Renee Shelby spoke about the reputation of the faculty, specifically “the reputation in their scholarship and collaboration with students.”

There was additional praise over the Institute’s promise program and the relationship between alumni and students, but 20 minutes into the one-hour forum, the crowd was ready to talk about the problems and challenges of being a student at Tech. 

Criticisms ranged from the particular struggles of students of color and students with disabilities to poor relationships between students and faculty. There was notable consensus over displeasure with food services on campus, of which the firm representatives commented, “we hadn’t heard that one before.”

The last question posed to students regarded the type of credentials the next president should have. Aside from typical leadership skills, many students suggested someone with experience outside of STEM, either in educational enhancement or even in liberal arts, so as to better address multidisciplinary gaps. Additionally, there were calls for a president that would cultivate the relationship between Tech and the City of Atlanta. 

Student feedback is not just for examining potential candidates within the state or region. The search could potentially be international. “We’re casting a wide net,” said Tarbutton.

After the forum, SGA President Evan Gillon discussed future plans to involve students in the process. 

“I’m leaning more toward smaller listening sessions rather than a full-formed [forum],” Gillon said. “I just want to have conversations with people about what they want to see.”

According to Gillon, the most impactful thing students can do in the meantime is to fill out their own comments online. Tech’s website has a form where students can provide comments or recommendations for the next president. 

“The firm,” added Gillon, “not the committee, takes [the comments] and presents it to us and builds it into its processes.”

There are tentatively six more months to find Tech’s next president, so due to the accelerated nature of the search, students only have a few more weeks to submit their feedback.