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Since early June, Central Washington University’s Trustee Search Advisory Committee has been collecting feed back from numerous stakeholder groups to help shape the type of candidate that will be recruited as the next university president.

Some of those groups include alumni, CWU faculty and staff, the Employees of Color Equity Council, with many more listening sessions on the schedule.

The search advisory committee was formed a few months ago, after President Jim Gaudino announced his decision to step down in the summer of 2021. The committee is chaired by trustee Erin Black, and co-chaired by trustee Robert Nellams and trustee Jeff Hensler.

Among the chief topics discussed at many of the sessions was the need to address diversity, inclusivity and equity issues on campus. Ricardo Iñiguez spoke at Thursday’s alumni listening session about his experience at Central and in Ellensburg.

“I think there’s a deeply negative undertone for students of color at the university,” Iñiguez said. “I think that impacts the ability for CWU to attract students who give back.

“The president needs to come in and needs to have that key understanding that of all this is important, and I cannot stress that enough ... even though there are steps that have been taken, there’s still a long ways to go since I was in there in the ‘90s.”

Jill Chreighton, the dean of students and associate vice president for campus life at Washington State University and Central alumna, said the next president needs to be willing to engage with stakeholders at all levels. She spoke how approachable her president at WSU, both in person and on social media. She also wanted to hear what the candidate’s values were.

“I’d like to hear how they approach higher education,” Chreighton said. “I’d much rather hear who you are as a person, as a leader and as an educator. Who are you going to be as a community member?”

According to the minutes of June 2’s listening session with the Employees of Color Equity Council, participants thought appointing a person of color candidate was an exciting prospect. The group also discussed if bringing a person of color into the job without the right resources and support would be fair to them, and if the real question might be “is CWU ready for a president who is a person of color?”

According to the minutes of the June 1 listening session with the Associated Students of CWU, the students believed the current administration has reached out to groups, then ignored what they said.

“Equity has to be genuine and substantive,” the minutes of the discussion read. “A continuing challenge is making non-traditional students feel that they are part of the life of the university. We need a president who understands the unique challenges for students who have families and jobs while trying to complete a degree.”

Pandemic learning

The short and long-term impacts of COVID-19 were another common theme during listening sessions, touching on topics from reduced state funding, decreased enrollment and more.

“As the state and institution grapple with financial challenges, the president will need to find a way to sustain programs — academic and student-support programs — that are critical for student success,” the minutes of a June 17 discussion with exempt employees read. “The new president must be able to communicate to CWU’s many audiences about the impact of COVID-19 and a vision for CWU when the pandemic passes. The president will have the opportunity to prepare for the post-COVID workforce gaps and develop programs the economy demands.”

Student Union and Recreation Center scheduling coordinator Bonnie Hendrickson spoke at the June 25 alumni listening session about her experience as a volunteer reaching out to students spring quarter, and said while increasing online teaching capacity is a smart move, the demand is still there for classroom learning.

“Almost everyone I talked to personally was not happy with being completely online,” Hendrickson said. “I understand with the situation online is a very important right now, but I do think a lot of the students would like to be back in the classroom and having the personal interactions.”

CWU associate professor of music education Bret Smith spoke at the June 25 session about how important it’s going to be having a candidate with the ability to work with legislators in Olympia in future months and years.

“I think that relationship and the ability to maintain and sustain presence with the Legislature, particularly with budget crises going forward,” Smith said. “Somebody that has experience and willingness to prioritize a real-time presence in Olympia … is going to be important next 5-10 years going forward.”

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