"It was fated to be," New president discusses his vision for Edinboro

Category:  News
Friday, September 6th, 2019 at 11:51 AM
It was fated to be, New president discusses his vision for Edinboro by Shayma Musa
New President Guiyou Huang began his tenure at Edinboro on July 1. He is the university's 19th president. | Shayma Musa

New president discusses his vision for Edinboro

The color red.
The number 214.                                                                                                                                                                                                            Meadville Street.

These were the celestial clues that the universe sprinkled inconspicuously throughout new university president Dr. Guiyou Huang’s nearly 36-year tenure at educational institutions across the U.S. and China. Separately, they mean nothing, but the way Huang puts it, they were “subterranean connections” to his new position.

“I published a book with, of all places, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and now I am at Edinboro University. When I lived on campus at Louisianna State University at Alexandria LSUA, it was 214 Meadville Street...when I moved here my address is 214 Meadville St. Then looking at Edinboro’s colors, red is a very auspicious color in Chinese tradition,” he said. “And I’m not even superstitious, but it is something right? It makes me feel good and comfortable here, because it feels like someone is governing this process.”

Huang is Edinboro University’s 19th president, hired after a nearly six-month long search that was organized after the resignation of former president H. Fred Walker in the Spring of 2017. Huang began his tenure at Edinboro on July 1, and ever since he’s been on the go, personally introducing himself to faculty and staff across campus, sitting down with local media to discuss his vision for Edinboro, and settling his family — wife Jennifer, daughter, 9-year-old Claire, and son, 18-year-old George, in the community. 

Why Edinboro?

Early on in the interview, Huang recognized the instability of the office he has entered: he is the ninth president (counting interim appointees) that the university has had in 12 years. And as Dr. Marc Sylvester, president of the Edinboro University branch of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), stated in an interview with The Spectator in April 2019, “The university just can’t function properly with that amount of transition.” 

On the topic, Huang said: “That is one of the hardest questions for me. I’m in my 50s — neither young, nor old — this is my second presidency, and...I’ve concluded that out of the six states that I’ve lived in, this is the best in terms of cultural, political and societal climate. I’ve lived in five different places in China, so I know how I survive, what culture I thrive in, and this is it. I’m happy and willing to make a long-term commitment, but no one can define long accurately. By long, I mean I would like to retire here if given that opportunity. Leadership and an institution has to be a good marriage, like a husband and wife; they both have to want to stay married, [and] in order for a president to stay long, the campus must agree, and vice versa, so I’m willing to make a long-term commitment. I’m not looking for a new presidency. I’m hopeful that my leadership style will be accepted [by Edinboro].”

Huang seems to possess many of the qualities that constituents across campus pointed to as valuable in the next Edinboro president. 

Tim Wachter, Council of Trustees member and chair of the presidential search committee, said the qualities the committee was looking for in a candidate were “someone who is going to be able to provide stability and continue to work with the university community, [and] to implement the plans that we have, in order to bring the university back to where we know it can be.”

Sylvester also said: “We would like this person to have a good reason to come to Edinboro. [It should be] someone who wants to invest in us, not someone who is along their career path and this is a stopping point.” 

The Experience

Huang has an extensive resume of nearly 36 years of experience as first a faculty member, then department chair, then dean, and eventually many other positions in the upper echelons of university administration, including Chancellor of Louisiana State University at Alexandria (see timeline on right). 

“I guess there is always a destination in mind in terms of where you want to go. I worked at Kutztown for nine years, so I’m very familiar with this system (PASSHE),” said Huang.

“Nine years is a lot of time; nine years is the longest employment I’ve ever had with any organization. I started my career as a young enthusiastic assistant professor in the birthplace of America, the keystone state, and my dream was to become the president of a comprehensive university. It was always a goal. I even wrote it down. And this university system is unique [in that] even the conversation level between the faculty and staff is way higher here than in some states that I’ve been in. I’ve been to six, so I know,” he continued. 

He also has personal reasons why Edinboro stood out to him. “I’m Chinese, and the Chinese are a very interesting group of people. We have, I think, a strong sense of gratitude. If you give me a job, I’m grateful that you’ve given me a job, [and] Pennsylvania is the first place that gave me a chance. And I understand this system a lot better than other systems, even though I operated at a higher level in other systems. My wife graduated from Lehigh University, so I have that personal connection. My son George, who is 18, was born at Lehigh Valley hospital. I got married in Pennsylvania. I became a U.S. citizen in Pennsylvania. So I have a lot of personal connections here. We lived in six different states, but my wife and I concluded that in terms of the service we get here, the people we interact with here, this is the best state that we’ve ever lived in,” said Huang. 

Huang and three other candidates — Dione Dorsey Somerville, James Conwell and Peter Fackler — were the finalists selected by the presidential search committee for on-campus interviews. Huang was an exception among the candidates for his time as Chancellor of Louisiana State University at Alexandria, the position he was serving in during the duration of the presidential search. Somerville was serving as Vice President of Student Affairs at Bloomsburg University during the search, and Peter Fackler was serving as Interim President at Mansfield University. Conwell who served as president of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology from 2013 to November 2018.

Angela Burrows, vice president for marketing and communication at Edinboro, described why Huang was an attractive candidate to her. “He’s had that breadth of experience, he’s moved through the ranks, so the prism has shifted multiple times for him.”

The Issues

Edinboro University has made headlines locally and throughout PASSHE for its issues regarding retention, finances and the instability of the office of the president. These are issues that former president H. Fred Walker addressed in a town hall meeting in February 2017. “We’re spending more money than we’re bringing in every year...Act 188 requires by law that we have a balanced budget every year, which we do have a balanced budget every year. The only way we’re balancing the budget is drawing down the reserves.” He continued in that moment to explain that in 2013, the university used $7.3 million from the reserves, and in 2016 it used $2.1 million to cover a deficit.

“The challenges that you mentioned, they are there, we are not alone, and we are better off than a number of PASSHE institutions, and we have some catching up to do with some other PASSHE schools. But we are putting together an operational sufficiency/excellence plan, and we will try to grow our enrollment, our retention, and our financial margin. But it will take a few years...I am very hopeful that three, or four, or five years out, financially we will be in a better position. I think that the good thing is that a lot of faculty and staff understand the general overall challenges affecting not only PASSHE and Edinboro but the overarching issues impacting institutions across the country. The political and cultural environment[s] that higher education finds itself in are not the same as they were two years ago. Whether they be political, cultural or demographic issues, we need to deal with those changes. I think that we have very good ideas on how to deal with financial challenges, recruitment challenges and retention challenges,” said Huang.

“On retention, I think that we’ve been doing a good job, and we can continue to do better. Sometimes it takes someone to talk about a problem, because if you don’t talk about something as a problem, then you won’t realize that it is a problem. If we reach 80 percent retention, then we will improve financially, and we will improve even faculty and staff morale. Those are some of the larger challenges that we face, but there are smaller ones that we will improve [upon] on a continual basis, as the strategic plan says we will ‘just fix it.’”

A new strategic plan was released this year, covering long-term issues such as retention, admissions, and financial stability. The strategic plan section that Huang refers to is a section titled, “Just fix it,” listing issues that don’t take many resources to attend to.

Retention is something that the university has focused much of its attention on in the past two years by adjusting admissions criteria. As a result, admissions rates fell from 92.5 percent in the fall of 2017 to 81.2 percent in the fall of 2018, according to information provided by Edinboro University fact sheets. Information on this fall’s admission rate has not been released.

The Future
In the coming weeks of the semester, Huang hopes to continue to meet students, faculty and administration, as well as participate in Edinboro traditions such as Homecoming, the Highlands Games and Fighting Scots athletics.

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