As the selection of Iowa State’s next president quickly approaches, the ISD Editorial Board reflected on the open forums and qualifications of each of the four finalists who visited campus. While all candidates are highly qualified to be the next president, we feel Pamela Whitten is the most qualified for the position and hope the Iowa Board of Regents will select her.
Whitten, currently the University of Georgia senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, struck us as poised and solution-oriented. While it isn’t the most important element for a candidate, in the open forums she seemed to be best at engaging the audience and most prepared to answer questions from the public. She effectively addressed the needs of students, faculty and the community.
Her communication style, as well as her most recent experience working at a university with a national brand, makes her most prepared to raise the profile of the institution. In our current state of lagging state funding as well as a need to be well-known for fundraising and research purposes, the ability to be a strong communications arm for the university is essential.
Whitten also has a good macro and micro vision for student services, as she brought up retention rates as well as how small financial reasons might impact students.
“You have to think toward those students that are so challenged that we risk losing them for small financial reasons," Whitten said. "We have discovered that it’s more common than people want to admit. So, we have created an emergency fund through the financial aid office because we would find that students would drop out of school because they were short $375."
Additionally, she hopes to make Iowa State “more secure” in the Association of American Universities by going up in rank. This is important for obtaining federal research funding and maintaining our status as a prestigious research institution.
Whitten touched on her work bridging the gap between the community and the college at the University of Georgia. While there are some great partnerships between the city of Ames and the university, there are plenty of improvements that can be made. We hope that, if selected, Whitten could help in this regard as Ames gets a new mayor.
Thoughts on the other finalists
Sonny Ramaswamy is relatable and has experience with budgets, research and land grant institutions. He also spoke about the importance of educating students in areas beyond their career choice, which we also feel is important. However, we feel that his political affiliation within the Obama administration and disconnect from academia for the past few years may be a hindrance. Additionally, the timing this job comes within his career may also be a hindrance.
In many ways Wendy Wintersteen represents advantages of knowing the ins and outs of Iowa State, as well as how to privately fundraise and effectively work with faculty. However, she also represents the status quo. In the editorial board’s opinion, while having knowledge of key issues is important, Iowa State needs fresh changes.
We felt that Dale Whittaker, currently the executive vice president and provost for the University of Central Florida, Orlando, was passionate and driven to achieve student success. Likewise, he mentioned solving hunger as being a life mission, but failed to adequately speak of sustainability in those efforts. Additionally, while he prioritized diversity and inclusion, his answers lacked the substance needed to make real impact in campus climate.