One of three candidates vying to take over as president of Fort Lewis College, Tom Stritikus said he was drawn to apply because of the college’s core values.
“There is a real commitment to diversity. There is a commitment to native students, maybe not actualized as much as it needs to be. There is a commitment to academic excellence. There is a commitment to access. There is also a commitment to a region. I think when you put those things together, you have immense potential to do great things,” he said during a well-attended open forum Monday at FLC.
Stritikus is the deputy director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he is in the running for president at a time when the college is facing declining enrollment and budget woes.
He also has experience as dean of the University of Washington College of Education, which he led through a budget crisis. Under his direction, the College of Education’s annual budget grew from $48 million to $84 million.
Stritikus didn’t offer specific solutions to FLC’s problems, but he said he would take action after having conversations with students, faculty, staff members and the community.
Even before fielding questions, Stritikus sought feedback from the audience about how they would describe the college, what a president’s priorities should be and what a future president should know.
Responses were livestreamed, and his questions sparked both positive and negative reactions. In response to his query about what a future president should know, respondents wrote: “We will be substantially pruned and beat up when you arrive,” and, “We are in an identity crisis and need to determine our identity before moving forward.”
Stritikus said he did not have a “playbook” for FLC’s problems, but he did see a need to have a clear vision and brand and improve student retention and graduation.
He said he would be willing to evaluate FLC’s rising admission standards, and he doesn’t think it would be incongruous to serve students where they are and keep academic excellence at the forefront.
To match a strategy to a situation, leaders must spend time understanding an institution’s culture, he said. At the same time, faced with urgent problems, he said leaders may have to act without reaching 100 percent consensus.
“Do you want to continue to have perennial debates while you are cutting yourself into the ground?” he asked.
Once a strategic plan is in place, Stritikus said he believes in empowering those closest to the work to do the work, he said.
When he took over as the dean of the University of Washington College of Education, it was the height of the budget crisis and staff members were divided. Setting out to be the most rigorous research college of education in the nation functioned as a rallying cry. FLC could also find four or five goals to rally behind, he said.
When asked about the legacy he could leave at FLC, he said the college could play a role in rural development and there is potential to see what the college has to offer that could help meet community needs.
The two other finalists are:
Teresa C. Balser, dean of teaching and learning for the School of Engineering at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Balser will visit Fort Lewis College and Durango on Wednesday and Thursday, April 4-5.Maria Guajardo, who is deputy vice president of Soka University in Tokyo, Japan. She visited last week.The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet April 13, when comments will be taken about the three finalists to replace Dene Thomas, the current president, who will retire at the end of the academic year.
Steve Short, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said he expects trustees to go into executive session after the April 13 meeting to discuss the three finalists. He said he expects a special Board of Trustees meeting will be set about a week after the April 13 meeting to announce the next president