New president Fred Walker talks goals, strike and changes to come at Edinboro University

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 at 10:00 PM
New president Fred Walker talks goals, strike and changes to come at Edinboro University by Macala Leigey
Photo: Steven Tagliente

“Edinboro is exactly what I asked for — this was coming home,” said new university president Dr. H. Fred Walker. Coming from a small town background and attending several public regional comprehensive universities, Edinboro was a familiar fit for Walker.

“I came from smaller town areas, I went to this kind of school [public regional comprehensive universities] — it’s wonderful. I also worked for 13 years at the University of Southern Maine, which is an exact copy of Edinboro,” he said.

Walker also previously worked at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the 10th largest private university in the United States, where he served as the dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology.

Walker expressed that his experience as dean prepared him for his role as president at Edinboro University, due to the roles having similar responsibilities.

“The deans at large private universities function as small presidents of universities there. So there’s a centralized administration [and] we generate our own revenue and we end up having to make contributions to help run the institution as a whole. But in the end, we’re responsible for all of our own programming, fundraising [and] fiscal management. It’s the same as being president of a small school, and my institution there was about the same size as Edinboro, in terms of enrollment,” Walker said.

However, even though the two professional roles share similar responsibilities, Walker mentioned that RIT also prepared him for Edinboro in a “different way.”

“Not only did I have to function as the chief executive officer of that institution [RIT], but when I started at Rochester, that was the same scenario that Edinboro is in right now with demographics, students [and] programing. Part of my job was to get the college up to speed with where the rest of the university was.”

Walker continued, “We’ve really got to change a lot of factors of this institution [Edinboro].”

As president, Walker has many goals and expectations for the university, but his main concern is getting the university back on track with the governor and state system’s expectations, and properly pursuing the mission of a public regional comprehensive university.

“The goal is to get the university oriented toward what its current expectations are from the governor and from the state. Right now, we don’t have that common understanding across the faculty and staff. What’s even more important is the mission we serve.”

Walker continued, “When we get it clear that we’re serving this mission as a public regional comprehensive [university], that means our mission is to put people into the economy, to make contributions, and drive economic development throughout the commonwealth and beyond. There’s a lot of work to do, and then we also have to talk about how we achieve financial sustainability.”

Walker mentioned that figuring out how to sustain finances is ultimately the first step Edinboro has to take.

“We have to do that [reach financial sustainability] before we do anything else, but after that the conversation changes to growth, refinement and selected areas of distinction. But right now, we can’t really have that conversation because we have to get out from underneath this cloud financially we are in,” he said.

With numerous changes anticipated for Edinboro, resistance from the campus community could occur, but Walker reassured that most faculty, students, and staff members are on board with the purposed changes.

“There has not been resistance. The campus community — faculty, staff and students — understand that we have to do some things different, and that comes at a time when the chancellor has been clear about what he expects and what the governor expects of the institution. So for me, getting those initial points of alignment has not been problematic,” he said.

Walker also expressed that he wants students to understand that his goals are all oriented towards improving their college experience.

“I would love for the students to consider that what we’re doing here is creating a college experience. A lot of times universities market, and students and families purchase the idea of a degree; that’s not what the college experience is limited to.”

Walker continued, “Part of what I’m going to be working on with the faculty, staff and the students is what does that college experience look like? It’s more than academics — it’s academics, co-curricular, it’s athletics, it’s experiential learning, it’s leadership and life skills — that’s why people are always going to be coming to universities for an experience.”

However, in recent years the amount of students enrolling at Edinboro has declined.

“We’re [Edinboro University] down right now to about 6,400 [students]. We’re never going to get back to that 9,000 students, and we can tell you why.”

He continued, “Graduation rates from high school students in the whole northeastern United States are continuing to go down because people are moving south. How do you build a university that can stay alive financially and do a good job at a lower enrollment number? One of my guiding philosophies is I’d rather have less and do less, but whatever I have or do, I’d like it to be done really well.”

In addition to addressing enrollment and his goals for the university, Walker touched on the current issues regarding the PASSHE and APSCUF contract negotiations.

“There are a lot of forces at play in that conversation that are well outside our sphere of influence on this campus. We are not in a position to help the conversations here on campus, but with some ill-advised moves we could inflame them; that’s not what we want to do.”

Walker continued, “I keep going back to the fundamentals, why are we here? We’re here to provide a good experience for the students; I can’t emphasize that more. I hope both sides continue to reflect why we are here. The decisions that get made are certainly going to be non-campus centric [and] it’s going to be applicable to all of these 14 universities. One thing I will absolutely tell you is not all of these 14 universities are at the same level of health financially.”

Walker also reassured students that in the event faculty do strike, life will continue as normal at Edinboro University.

“You [students] will continue to have life as normal, unless you are advised otherwise, and there are a lot of ways this may or may not play itself out. What we have already told our staff, and a number of constituents throughout the community, is we will continue to operate as normal, until that’s no longer possible.”

Walker continued, “The issues with our faculty are relative to a collective bargaining organization, and students should not be caught up in that. Students should not be engaging in what the issues are, students should not be taking positions on that, just like the administration should not. We’re trying to be very neutral.”

Overall, Walker expressed confidence in the direction Edinboro is heading in and his commitment to Edinboro students.

“We’re [Edinboro University] in a really good spot right now, and everybody is looking with optimistic eyes about where we’re going. We know what we’re doing and we’re happy to make this the best possible experience for you [students] that we can.”

Macala Leigey is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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