Tech’s future rests on presidential pick

Did you know we’re on the verge of a frenzy breaking out at Tech? I am, of course, referring to the upcoming announcement of the three nominees to succeed Wayne Clough as president of our Institute. Board of Regents chairman Richard Tucker told the AJC in January that the finalists would be announced by the end of that month, so we can assume the announcement may be on its way any day now.

Maybe “frenzy” isn’t the right word to describe how campus will be affected. I’m sure most students won’t care one way or the other until the Regents make their final choice. But personally I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this for months, and I’m much more excited by this presidential transition than I was by another one that’s been in the news lately.

The last time we went through this process in 1994, we emerged with Clough. A student from the early nineties would scarcely recognize what Tech has evolved to since then (though they may have noticed that their Tech degree gets them further than they thought it would). We have new academic buildings and facilities all over campus, with many of them on entirely new areas (Tech Square, Biotechnology Complex). Students wishing to be involved in research or study abroad have more opportunities at their disposal than ever before. Enrollment and research expenditures have ballooned. Over Clough’s presidency the Institute and its faculty and students have truly become a force to be reckoned with.

This selection has enormous ramifications, and Clough was an example of a best-case scenario. Will the new president lead us to even greater heights, or will we stagnate or even deteriorate? This is what is at stake. With over 20,000 students and faculty, thousands more staff, and countless alumni, it will be hard to satisfy everyone. As for me, I have a few things I think ought to be priorities for Tech in the coming years.

The first is the need for this campus to eliminate waste and unnecessary redundancy. I’ve noticed plenty of both all over campus. There are so many aspects of this Institute’s operation that are not optimized because the people with the capability to lead such change are too stuck in their old ways. The new president will have to lead such change from the top, not only to allow us to weather the current economic hardships, but to thrive in the future. Money will always be tight for a public university with great ambitions like ours, and it will be even tighter as long as there is money being wasted.

The second is for Tech to improve its ability to succeed at its most core function: undergraduate education. In my five years as an undergraduate I had way too many courses with way too high student-instructor ratios and too few classes with professors who seemed interested in whether or not their students gained an understanding of the material. A fresh outside perspective from another top-notch educational institution can help us improve in this regard.

The third is to restore the collegiate atmosphere and student unity that seems to be lacking at Tech. My sense is that many students here only care about the school insofar as it is their vehicle to a high-paying career. If “Tech” means nothing more than classes, drinking on weekends and the shaft one gets every once in a while from Parking or OIT (and none of the holistic development), that’s an awfully large component of the collegiate experience that one misses out on.

Finally, the president needs to maintain Clough’s approachability and connectedness to the student body. He was well known for being easy to reach, quick to respond to e-mails and frequently out meeting students. The new president will have to do this and more. Our interim president, Gary Schuster, has taken a great step in this direction by maintaining a blog (www.gatech.edu/blogs/president/). The new president should keep this blog and consider using sites like Facebook and Twitter to open up a daily dialog with students.

Those are the things I am looking for as someone who will be a student under the new president for one semester and an alumnus trading on the value of my degree and education for many more after that.

But that’s just my perspective. What are you looking for in the new president? Write in and let us know.