Choosing a Good President for Towson University

–Richard E. Vatz

It is my hope that this topic is not too “inside baseball” for the readers of Red Maryland, but I believe it is not.

President Bob Caret is leaving Towson University (TU) in April, and the UM System Chancellor, Brit Kirwan, with the advice but not the consent of an ad hoc presidential search committee, will choose our new president.

The choice of president for Towson is quite consequential since TU is becoming an even more significant university in Maryland and is growing toward a goal of over 25,000 undergraduate students, growth that President Caret has promised will proceed apace if and only if TU is supported financially commensurate with that growth. One factor inconsistent with this promise is that TU remains the least well funded major university in the University of Maryland System, a fact the president testified on in Annapolis this year, probably to no avail. Parenthetically, maybe it’s time to stop the growth until promises are kept.

The Search Committee for the new president, which committee I have met during one of its many question and answer sessions, has a large percentage of higher educationally perspicacious members. Unfortunately, it contains as well one or two people who, due to their special agendas and self-serving motives and lack of knowledge as to what qualities are necessary in a president of a major research-intensive comprehensive university, should simply not have been chosen for this job. Fortunately, they are a small minority of the Committee.

The Committee also has a wonderful chair with excellent judgment, Ms. Louise Michaux Gonzales, a member of the University System Board of Regents who in addition demonstrates a discerning and unthreatened approach, and clearly knows how to conduct a search.

There are a number of issues pertaining to the search that deal with whether Towson will continue to produce excellent teachers (note to the higher education-challenged: TU, unlike many of its competitors, puts a major emphasis on its full-time faculty’s teaching and rewards — or used to reward — its finest teachers for their superb skills in the classroom.)

Here are some issues — by no means is this an exhaustive list — by which candidates should be judged in their quest to become TU’s next president:

1. As implied above, TU’s identity has been inconsistently communicated to the university community for years. Are we a research-intensive university or not? How important is teaching? How important is research? What is the mission of Towson University?

2. What is the candidate’s view of shared governance between administration and faculty? There is a growing concern at TU that the tremendous cooperation that once marked the relationship between TU’s administration and faculty has dissipated severely and continues to do so. Do the candidates intend to reestablish administrative respect for faculty opinion?

3. Towson’s major athletic teams have fared poorly for a long time, yet we have a very promising athletic director and football coach, among others. Do the candidates pledge to finally allow Towson to create excellent athletic teams?

4. Advising for registration: this is a boring issue to those not on campus, but it is one of the most infuriating and consequential on campus — for some. Again, Towson has been told that research and publication are important (good), but across campus there are departments which require up to 40 hours — 40 hours — of advising for registration per term, an activity that faculty, incidentally, simply does not do well. The top faculty member on campus in Linthicum Hall sits with 20 year-olds and tries to convince them that an 8 o’clock class “isn’t the pits” and “doesn’t suck.” Faculty in some departments do no advising. I can tell you that no faculty member can dedicate himself or herself to dozens of hours of registration advising and be a top-notch faculty member. Why not hire more full-time advisors? Yes, that might be a good idea, if we were funded to do so.

5. A related problem is that the university inveigles many top faculty to come to TU

who expect to find more support for scholarly activities. What those faculty don’t know is that there is a workload issue on campus that results in many of TU’s colleges giving new faculty a lower teaching load their first three years and then making it almost impossible to get that research-encouraging load again unless they publish an exceptional amount. This workload policy, like advising, varies from college to college, and many resent what they regard as the administration’s lack of consistency on policy. Many of our aspirational and performance peer universities are moving away from requiring faculty to advise for registration (1. Cleveland State University 2. Portland State University 3. UNC, Charlotte 4. University of Akron). Would the new candidates insist on a consistent research-promoting workload policy and an end to mandatory “intentional advising?” Don’t worry, dear reader; university personnel don’t know what “intentional advising” is either.

I have taught at Towson University for almost 37 years. This university has done more for me than I could articulate even in a lengthy essay, but the university is making mistakes, and the attitude of some in the administration is to ignore them. An astute, shrewd and strong new president could constitute a great handoff from our current excellent president, fix the problems, and help move Towson University to the top of research-intensive, comprehensive universities.

These, as I said, are not the only issues, but they are critical ones.

Let’s choose the right person, folks. Let Towson University continue to be great.


Richard E. Vatz is a faculty member in Mass Communication and Communication Studies at Towson University and is a member of Towson’s University Senate.

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