Acting President Perry answers questions about leadership transition, Westminster’s future
Dr. Carolyn Perry listens to a student’s question in Hermann Lounge on Friday, Aug. 18. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.
BY JIM MALVEN
On Friday, Aug. 18, Dr. Carolyn Perry, who earlier in the day had been named Westminster’s acting president, talked to students about the resignation of former president Dr. Benjamin Akande and the leadership transition that then ensued. Afterward, she answered students’ questions about the transition and the future of Westminster.
These questions and answers can be seen below. Please note that some have been edited for length or clarity.
What should we say if we are asked what is happening and why?
What I think you need to say is that Dr. Akande came here a couple years ago and did a great job helping us change our focus. We were so traditional. He needed to help us think in broader ways, to think of new ways of delivering in higher education, to expand our programs on campus, and those initiatives are critical initiatives that we are working toward. He has moved on to other things, and, to be real honest, that’s his business.
What changes will the presidential transition cause in students’ day-to-day lives?
One of the things I said to the faculty and staff is that our goal is for you to feel no disruption, that in essence, nothing has changed. We’ve had a leadership transition, but with the day-to-day operations of the college, nothing has changed.
I think you should expect to see more new development, maybe getting into more graduate programs or online programs or adult education … but you should also expect to see the same quality education here.
I know that enrollment has dropped considerably in recent years. Do we have a plan in place to reverse that trend?
Recruitment is difficult, but at the same time, it’s significant. Part of why it is so difficult is that there have been a lot of changes in leadership in that office [Vice President for Enrollment Management Bobby Andrews resigned in May; Associate Vice President and Director of International Admissions Calvin Smith then replaced Andrews on an interim basis. According to an email Perry sent to students this past Friday, Smith has since resigned and is being replaced by former Senior Director of Enrollment Management and Student Financial Planning Aimee Bristow].
Part of [the difficulty of enrollment] is declining numbers of students coming out of high schools in our main target areas.
Part of it is an interesting issue, and that is shifting the strategy so that we can be more efficient … We’ve kind of shifted our financial model a little bit, and to be honest, what that means is that the admissions officers at some point will have to say, “I’m sorry; we can’t give you any more money.” Other colleges might have that ability, so students will go elsewhere … We know those things.
One of the other things that I think is a critical piece is that most every other institution advertises. As you can see, we don’t do much advertising. We’ve always wanted to keep our money focused on the education, and we’ve been slow to do marketing, for better or worse. We have to put more money and more resources into marketing and public relations, and we’re working on those changes. I think the president did really a good job of helping us set some new strategies that will be good for the college and give you a more stable environment.
We’re going to put all of these strategies into place, and we’re budgeting on slow growth – very slow, solid growth – so that we get the right students.
With declining rates of high school students in local areas, do you have a specific plan for reaching out to international students or out-of-state students?
We’re not giving up on international student recruitment. I will tell you that part of the strategy was to find different types of international students. Again, we don’t like this, but we don’t have a choice: international recruitment will be very targeted. We won’t see the same amount of diversity. I hope someday we can get back to that, but in the short run, international recruitment will be more limited than we want it to be.
The second thing is we’re not even known well enough in Missouri. The second attack is to make sure people know who we are. The strategy for that is to find faculty who are willing to go into high schools, volunteering to give a lecture … to get into the classrooms, as opposed to sitting at a table and waiting for people to stop by.
That’s a new initiative to, again, to help students understand who we are and what we stand for and to give them more information. So, that needs to happen, as well, because we need to be getting Missouri students … The majority of students go to college with 50 or a hundred miles of where they live.
The third thing is we need to target recruitment for places we’ve had success. The high schools from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Illinois especially – those states around us, where we know we’ve have great students; we know we have a great reputation – we need to be focusing on those.
I know that we talked a little about using students to help. So, if that’s what you’re interested in, please, please, please say so.
After this interim period, what position will you go back to?
The plan right now is for us [Perry and Jones] to shift back to our regular positions. …
Do you have any interest in being the next permanent president?
I feel like the world of higher education is so different than it used to be. It used to be that presidents were typically academics and … worked their way into the presidency. You didn’t have to know a whole lot about higher education and financing, because it wasn’t so challenging. I think in the ideal world, we would find someone who really understands higher education financing.
How do you plan to remain accessible during this transition?
I will say that’s one of the reasons I’m the acting president, because the purpose of that role is not to try to do every single thing the president did; it’s to keep the campus strong and to set the plans for the campus and to keep things in good order, so that you get everything you need.
What type of president will you be looking for?
Someone who’s very good at fundraising and someone who understands the business of higher education. I also think it’s very important, though, that we find someone who represents the face of the college – somebody who has the integrity and the sense of respect for students that we would be proud to have.