By Lauren Santye
As Mordechai Rozanski winds down his time as president of Rider University, the search committee starts its taxing process of looking for a replacement.
One of the steps to be taken is to get feedback from different parts of the Rider community. On March 27, the committee held a meeting in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater to get students’ feedback on life at Rider and what they are looking for in a new president.
According to Mike Kennedy, ’72, vice chairman of the board, the process has just begun. A board meeting was held Feb. 26, and the search committee, which is made up of 13 members, was created.
“Ultimately the board of trustees will make a decision on who the new president will be,” Kennedy said. “In the process of doing our job, we also hired a search firm. They are specialists in working with executive searches for universities, particularly presidential searches.”
The board has a clear path on how to go about finding the new presidential candidates.
“We will speak with just about everyone we can about goals, opportunities, challenges, views about the new president, things the president would like to hear when the new president comes onto campus,” Kennedy said. “We talked to the deans, today we’re talking to students, we will also talk to the chairs of the departments, we’ll speak with representatives of the union, we’ll speak with representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). We will speak with faculty, and also a number of other individuals with respect to the overall goal process.”
According to Dave Keenan, director of Campus Life and a member of the search committee, this is a long process that takes a lot of work.
“With searches at this level and this caliber, it really is a two-way street in the search,” Keenan said. “Folks are going to see the article, see the ad, and they’re going to apply for the position of president. But we also want to know what are the challenges you think we face as a university because the search firm at that point can take that data also and go out and say, ‘Hey, this is somebody who might be able to meet the challenges that are facing Rider, or might fit into those strengths the institution has.’”
Some students gave their opinions on what they believe are Rider’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I like the community feel,” said Lori Tatum, a sophomore secondary education and English major.
“I know I kind of experienced that my first visit here, and Rider, it really stuck out to me because of that. I feel that I’m able to recognize faces and the professors and administrators are so involved. One time I had a little issue that I wanted handled and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you email the president?’ I said, ‘He’s never going to respond to that,’ but he got back to me within 10 minutes, and I know he’s probably busy.”
Tatum feels the new president should have the same welcoming personality she has encountered throughout the university.
“I want him to be passionate, openly passionate about what he is doing,” she said. “I want to be able to feel that I could go up and talk to him and introduce myself, always having that ‘my door’s always open’ policy. I think that’s a really important opportunity to have.”
Louis Chebetar, a graduate accounting student, said he values the tight-knit community that Rider has.
“I love what the president and Student Government Association do at the beginning of the year,” he said. “We serve the campus with food, and invite them to join us on the Campus Mall and just do small things that show we are a community — to continue that and to really engage the students.”
Although Chebetar is happy with a lot of things that Rider already does, he hopes to see improvements with the freshman class.
“One thing I think we can even improve, and maybe this would help with our retention as well, is engaging the freshmen students,” he said. “We’ve been doing a really great job with this with many of our different programs. But making sure that they are able to get into the student organizations so that they can have reason to stay here on the weekend and have a community of friends to really enjoy and bolster the community is important.”
Senior economics major Farzana Razack also enjoys the community feel the university gives off.
“I moved from South America, just to come to Rider,” she said. “When I did come here, I felt like it was a family and there was no reason to move. Coming from another country where the culture is different, where there are so many different issues to be faced with, I mean I’m here on my own. I felt really welcome.”
Razack hopes the new president will address the importance of diversity at Rider.
“I feel like the president should continue to encourage diversity on campus,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone from my country on campus, so continuing to welcome diversity would be really good.”
Some students may argue that Rider is too much of a commuter school, but others have varying opinions.
“I’m a tour guide,” Tatum said. “I feel I stay on the weekends because I’m involved with so many things and my friends are here. If you make those connections and you get involved, it would be so easy to stay. I think that first step is so hard for students. I know coming in, freshman orientation was like the best thing ever and I don’t know if there was some way that we could continue that community for them, so they really feel like they’re getting involved. Also so they don’t come to school the first day and feel like, ‘Oh darn, what do I do now?’ type of thing.”
However, there are some steps Tatum believes that Rider should take in order to keep students from going home on the weekends.
“I know when I first came here I didn’t really know anything that was around: where to go grocery shopping, the mall, etc. Just getting us involved in the surrounding community, making us want to stay here more, because we have things to do that are off campus.”
The biggest goal of Rider is the education, and to continue to improve it as time goes on, according to Kennedy.
“One of the greatest things about Rider is that my education professors aren’t teaching me what they knew 20 years ago — they’re teaching me what is current, what practices I should be using now in my classroom,” Tatum said. “I think that’s the greatest thing about our professors here. In saying that, I wish that our professors were observed a little more or just making sure that their excellence is always where it should be. I want my money to go toward pushing me to academic excellence. I think that’s very important, and hopefully very valued with the new president.”
Kennedy agreed, saying, “That is an important aspect of what the president will look at, that will lead us to the next 10 or plus years of Rider’s history. We’re all looking for that; we all need to challenge ourselves, and particularly to be not only current but beyond current in cutting edge.”
The process of finding a new president is a daunting and tiring task, that will use outside help as much as possible.
“Part of the thing that’s so exciting about this opportunity is we’ll actually talk to a broad range of candidates, probably from all over the country, maybe different universities, different sizes, different experiences, different academic programs being offered,” Kennedy said. “And so it gives us a chance to really see what else is there relative to change — transparency being one of the key characteristics — and then move forward with the new president. So all your comments are going to be put into that melting pot of questions that we will ask.”
The task of finding a president is something that requires a lot of time and is not to be taken lightly.
Kennedy explained that the president “is deeply involved as an executive” when it comes to keeping the university’s reputation as a school that prides itself on excellence.
“The president works about 25 hours a day; he is engaged in every aspect of the university,” Kennedy said. “So if you think about what Rider does and that whole community, that you talked about — let’s take it from the beginning to academic excellence, which was the development of the school’s reputation around having big come backs. That’s a function of faculty, that’s a function of programs, our offerings; certainly here and at our Westminster campus.”
Kenndey continues to stress how the job of the president is one of the keys to the success of the university.
“The president is the outgoing spokesman of Rider. He’s the one that has the opportunity to bring the brand to the larger community. I was kind of kidding when I said 25 hours a day, but in a sense I’m not. It is a total commitment of the president, across every aspect of the university.”