Last year, the Graceland Board of Trustees and new presidential search committee sat down with a daunting task: choosing a new university president. In eight months, using input from faculty, alumni, and students, they narrowed the search from sixty candidates to three. The Board has worked hard to include multiple perspectives and opinions in their final choice. Harry Ashenhurst, Chair of the Board, says, “The search committee was a mix of people that we put together of faculty and staff from both campuses. Then, Dave Schall ran several focus groups with students.”
The greatest way student voice has been incorporated into the process is through three forums that were held in the MSC Main Room February 6-8. Each night, one of the final three candidates stood before the student body and answered questions about their aptitude for the position. Hot topics included how presidents would stay in contact with students, support student athletes, improve retention, address the debate to make the campus a “sanctuary campus,” and integrate the Lamoni and Independence campuses. There was a positive turn out, full of interesting, thought-provoking questions that really told us a lot about the candidates in such a short amount of time.
The first candidate is Dr. Patricia Draves, who currently holds an administrative position at the University of Mount Mercy. She talked a lot about her desire to update the campus with modern facilities, which students responded to enthusiastically. She also mentioned her focus on retaining students, an area in which Graceland sometimes struggles. She said her husband, as a Chemistry professor, always has students over to their house for study parties, and she said she was interested in having barbecues for Graceland students at her home.
The second candidate is Dr. Hubert Benitez, who currently holds a leadership position at Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences. One interesting idea he had was to have student forums much like these twice a semester to hear student ideas and concerns. He also said, when asked about what a day in the life of a GU president would look like, that he would make it a priority to walk the campus and see what’s going on in students’ lives, in addition to spending one day a week on the Independence campus to help bridge that gap. Dr. Benitez also described the importance of multiculturalism and welcoming first generation and minority students.
The third and final candidate is Dr. Mary Holz-Clause. She currently works at Cal Poly Pomona, but held administrative positions at Iowa State University in the past. Dr. Holz-Clause is expressly interested in helping students get international opportunities, and holds the organization Enactus in high regard. She’s also impressed with students who engage in service learning, and wants to help students find more service learning opportunities because she’s seen firsthand how this can positively impact their future. She wants to hold town hall meetings, and described a president’s biggest asset to be the team they work with.
All of the candidates were received by students with a positive attitude. Most students agreed that any of the three would be a great fit for Graceland. So how soon will students and faculty have an answer? “We hope to let the community know within two weeks,” says Harry Ashenhurst. The search committee and Board of Trustees will meet this week and try to take all of the input students, faculty, and alumni have shared. Several emails have been sent to students with information and surveys through which they can share their opinions. “I think the process has worked well,” Ashenhurst says. “We’ve been getting a lot of input. Now, we just have to try to integrate it all.”
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