Editor’s note: Austin Linfante is the opinion editor of The New Political. His views are his own and in no way represent the views of The New Political’s editorial staff, nor do they constitute an endorsement for any prospective Ohio University president.
This semester, the Ohio University Board of Trustees will select President Roderick McDavis’ replacement, kickstarting the next generation of this storied campus. It would be a shame if it weren’t Duane Nellis.
Admittedly, I was not able to attend any of the open forums (thanks, pneumonia), but I have spent considerable time looking into the candidates’ backgrounds and reading about what they have to contribute to Ohio University and its community. And while the Presidential Search Committee has put together a solid list of finalists, former Texas Tech University President Nellis is the standout that fully understands the biggest problems facing American colleges today.
Nellis’ refreshing view on academia starts at his viewpoints on tenure. During his open forum last Tuesday, he openly supported tenure tracks for professors, even addressing the optimistic policy that is decreasing the amount of adjunct “lecturers.” This not only shows his dedication to acknowledging academic greatness, it highlights his awareness of how colleges across the nation treat their adjunct professors and “lecturers.”
From decreasing benefits for non-tenured professors to encouraging a male-dominated academic circle, it’s an issue that is not always made public. Given that the other presidential candidates’ responses to tenure tracks range from relative silence to “…we will soon have to get much, much better at describing what tenure is or what tenure is not,” Nellis not only wishing for changes to the tenure system but making it one of his core values is a breath of fresh air.
His work with increasing international identity at universities is also admirable. While McDavis gets a lot of hate by students, faculty and alumni, he has done a good job in fostering international relationships and promoting international students to attend OU. With Nellis able to increase the TTU’s international student population by 22 percent just from fall 2013 to fall 2014, he is most likely the best candidate to continue this effort.
While the other presidential candidates are solid, they come with some pretty large red flags. North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani would probably have a successful tenure as OU’s president as he promotes diversity and inclusion programs and “productive” activism from students. But his relative inexperience in fields such as sustainability is concerning, and referring to higher education as an “easy target” for journalists in response to a question about his email controversy doesn’t bode well for both journalists and transparency advocated that want to check on the university and its actions.
Allegations against former University of New Mexico President Robert Frank for creating a hostile work environment can’t be glossed over by his support for underrepresented, first-generation students and sexually assaulted students. These allegations, which an investigator said “may rise to the level of bullying,” would create suspicion of his presidency at best and, if the allegations are true, would harm the school internally and externally at worst.
Finally, while current OU Provost Pam Benoit has insider experience and would continue McDavis’ efforts of creating sustainable places on campus, her presidency would more or less be a continuation of the McDavis administration she worked under. Her shrugging off OU’s steep decline in college rankings doesn’t indicate that she is much different from McDavis, and her unyielding support of OU athletics signals a continuation of pumping money into the department, despite protests. While Nellis does worryingly call college athletics “…the front porch of the institution,” we at least have a good idea of what a Benoit administration supporting OU athletics would look like (see: the $6.1 million Sook Center for student-athletes).
Unfortunately for me, I don’t expect the Board of Trustees to select Nellis; I see Benoit becoming the next president of Ohio University. I don’t feasibly see the board rambunctiously supporting McDavis for over 12 years and then not selecting one of the top administrators to succeed him. But I believe OU is fortunate to have someone as qualified and insightful as Nellis as a finalist for this school. If Nellis does somehow become president, though, I can see him being one of the best presidents for teachers, academia, international students and the school’s general reputation as a public research university that OU has ever seen.