Two candidates for president of the soon-to-be Vermont State University visited Castleton’s campus last week to meet students, staff and faculty and discuss their experience and future plans for higher education in Vermont.
Gregory Summers, special assistant to the chancellor at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Jacqueline Edmonson, chancellor and chief academic officer at Penn State University-Greater Allegheny, were the first of four presidential candidates to visit Castleton as the search continues for someone to lead the new college entity into uncharted territory and uncertain times.
Two other candidates will be visiting this week.
Summers visited on Monday, bringing with him stories of his experience dealing with a large University of Wisconsin merger as a provost.
Edmonson followed on Tuesday, also having experience in navigating issues with university identities from her time as a chancellor at Penn State.
“I think either way, the university is put into great hands,” said senior class President Adam Mitchell. “I will say Dr. Edmonson did feel a little more personable, a little bit more sincere.”
Mitchell added that he saw Summers as a president who would work more financially and “set us afloat for the sustainability of the university,” while he believed Edmonson may be a more compassionate student advocate if elected.
“I would see the role of the president of the institution as facilitating the continued dialogue that is shaping your institution,” Summers said during his address. He went on to praise the amount of work that has already been done by all the VSU institutions towards the merger.
The short, half-hour meet-and-greet meetings left much to be desired in the eyes of the 20-some people standing around the lower Calvin Coolidge Library gallery.
History professor Andre Fleche was one of several in the room who did not get to ask a question before the meeting with Summers ended at the 8:30 mark on Monday morning. Fleche said he was excited about Summers because of their shared field of history, but he did have his concerns.
“At Stevens Point, he had recommended the elimination of history and a number of other humanities,” Fleche said.
Philosophy professor Brendan Lalor did get to ask a question, but he too was left without all the answers he wanted.
“All of us would have had follow-up questions that would have been really valuable,” Lalor said.
Summers has also studied climate change as an environmental historian, and says he often compares higher education to the changing climate, noting that major shifts in the needs and applications of colleges are here and we need to be quick to analyze and change with them.
“I think he had a lot to say. He has got a lot of history with transformations…Overall, it was a good first meeting. There were some solid questions answered,” Student Government Association President Ryan Boeke said.
The following day, it was Edmonson’s turn to visit with folks on campus in the library.
“My pattern is to meet regularly with student leaders,” she said. “It’s important for me to hear from students. What their goals are, what their dreams are, what their concerns are.”
Edmonson stressed not only a great relationship and understanding of traditional students, but also commuters and adult learners and their experiences.
She has her own experience with university name changes and disconnection among community members as a result of it, navigating the change at her former institution, Penn State McKeesport, which became Penn State Greater Allegheny.
English and Literature Professor Louis Palmer was optimistic about Edmonson.
“I’m impressed with what she knows about us, obviously she’s really done her homework,” Palmer said. “I like her emphasis on everybody getting along. Making it happen is something different.”
Professor of Education Ann Slonaker earned her doctorate under Edmonson in curriculum and instruction. Slonaker is confident that Edmonson will faithfully execute the office of VSU President if elected.
“She shepherded along a nice cohort of grad students,” Slonaker said. “I see in her capacity this bridging work across campuses while honoring who we are.”
She added that Edmonson is a great listener and emphasized her position at Penn State as one in a “high power department on the main campus.”
The final two candidates completed university visits this week after the Spartan deadline for publication. Additional town hall meetings over Zoom provided open access to the candidates outside of campus meetings, each lasting one hour.
According to the Vermont State Colleges website, the board of trustees will select the first president of Vermont State University before the end of April, and they will assume the office on July 1.