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Polling the Pokes: OSU students, professors describe what they want in next university president

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Pete's Pet Posse Statue Unveiling

OSU students, faculty and president Burns Hargis and wife Anne Hargis come out to celebrate national dog day during the Pete's Pet Posse statue unveiling on August 26, 2018 on OSU's campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (PIPER REESE/O'COLLY)

Jared Eberle has a clear image of who he wants the next university president to look like.

“Honestly, in an ideal world, I'd want someone in the science departments to clone (Burns) Hargis,” said Eberle, an Oklahoma State history professor. “I want president Hargis to stay here ideally, but he has all the traits.

"We need someone who can kind of wear all the hats. Not just the public face and the fundraising, but they’ve got to go to the regents and advocate for students, faculty and staff.”

Hargis recently announced his retirement as OSU's president after 13 years, leaving the school in the hunt to find someone capable to follow. During his tenure, Hargis raised $2.5 billion in private support, $1.6 billion in grant funds for research and added 2.5 million square feet of campus upgrades. Many faculty members praise Hargis’ time at the university and hope to find a candidate with similar passions.

“I think President Hargis does an outstanding job of promoting the university and ensuring that the research being done here is recognized all over the state and nation,” said OSU professor Dr. Sarah Hollingsworth. “I hope the next president will be able to continue to promote the innovative research being done at OSU.”

Though there is no shortage of praise for Hargis, Dr. Thad Leffingwell, head of the department of psychology, would like to see a push for change on campus.

“Personally, I would like to see a commitment to improving the physical facilities of the College of Arts and Sciences, the academic heart of the university,” Leffingwell said. “Most of our departments exist in spaces that are either outdated and crumbling or ill-suited for the purpose they are being used for.

"Much of campus has seen significant physical upgrades during Hargis’ tenure and it is time that the College of Arts and Sciences gets that attention. Our teaching and research touch literally every student at the university.”

Some students want a candidate who will push for change, too. Junior Sarah Beth Henderson would like to see an empathetic and accountable leader as the next president.

“I think the greatest qualities the new president should possess is empathy, accountability and transparency," Henderson said. "It’s so important, especially amid this global pandemic and election year, that we have a leader who is capable of being empathetic towards students.

“Our campus needs someone who will be transparent and honest with students, while also holding us accountable for ourselves.”

With the unprecedented circumstances in the modern world, some students want to see a candidate who will have an open mind to help the university.

“There are a lot of uncertainties and changes going on in our world daily, and I think a president needs to be able to be open to advancing our campus in the same way that the world outside of OSU is," OSU student Ryne Garrison said. "Organization is important for this because the president has to implement this change in a way that he or she can convey the reasoning to the students, alumni, university sponsors and the entire Cowboy family in a clear and concise way.”

Overall though, many community members find it important that the next president understand the many traditions of OSU and come from a diverse background.

“I hope the search process will solicit a deep pool of diverse applicants and use strategies to encourage diversity in the pool, and then I hope they pick the best fit from that pool,” said Leffingwell. “That said, I would personally be thrilled to see OSU select a woman or a person who identifies as BIPOC or LGBTQ. All students on our campus should have the opportunity to see someone like them in leadership positions.”

There has never been a woman president in the history of OSU, though OSU Center for Health Sciences President Dr. Kayse Shrum and Baylor President Linda Livingstone are two candidates speculated to be up for the position. 

“It would be amazing if the next president of OSU was a woman, I would absolutely love that. However, I don’t think it is necessarily important that a woman fills this role unless she would be the absolute best candidate for presidency,” said Henderson.