Editorial: Next UM System president must prioritize communication skills

Presidential search committee must consider public input when evaluating candidates

As the UM System presidential search committee continues evaluating different candidates in light of the four public forums held at each UM System campus, they need to prioritize an applicant with strong communication skills.

Most of the turmoil and administrative failings from last semester stemmed from a simple failure to communicate. Many students, faculty and staff felt strongly that their administration was not listening to them in any meaningful sense. Remedying this disconnect between our administration and campus is the most important task the next system president will face.

For our current administration, an immediate opportunity to start listening comes with the forums being held to gather public opinion for the search. These forums are an essential step in this process, and it’s of paramount importance that the search committee take this feedback into consideration.

For the next UM System president, actively listening to constituents should take multiple forms. It starts with a willingness to communicate in constructive and productive ways. It means facilitating the type of meaningful dialogue that would have prevented the controversies of last semester in the first place.

Social media presence is also essential in improving this communication. The next system president is going to need to be more of a public figure than has been the case in the past. The events from last semester created this expectation and it doesn’t appear as if it’s going to change any time in the near future. A strong social media presence is essential here. The poorly received social media presence from former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin will not suffice, nor will the radio silence from former UM System President Tim Wolfe.

These qualities work to better the UM System in the long run. Consistently maintaining good communication and relationships throughout the system prevents crises from happening in the first place, but that doesn’t mean that the next system president doesn’t need to be adept at crisis management. On the contrary, this person must be exceptional at handling controversies where every word and every action count.

In these moments, the next UM System president must utilize their position as a public figure to handle the situation. Prompt responses to racially charged incidents are essential and must demonstrate an actual understanding of the issues in question. Transparency in their decision-making process is also an essential aspect of the next system president’s crisis management strategy. All that being said, the prevailing strategy of the next UM System president must be proactive versus reactive.

An understanding and prioritization of shared governance on the part of the UM System president is another quality we feel is essential from the next person to hold the office. We don’t expect or want someone to be appointed to the office on a platform of yielding all decision-making to students and faculty. This person must have their own vision for their time in office.

It’s pointless to attempt to pinpoint exactly where we want the next UM System president to come from, be it business, government or education. But, above all, we know that this person must be driven by a genuine and authentic passion higher education. We want a leader with an integral desire to fix the problems of the past nine months who works in tandem with their own vision for the future of the system — all balanced with stakeholder input.

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