Finalists for University President Speak at Public Reception

Ideas for the future of Marshall University were proposed to the public by the five finalists for the position of university president throughout the last week. 

Throughout the week of Oct. 11, five candidates set to succeed President Jerome Gilbert: Dr. Bernard Arulanandam, Dr. Bret Danilowicz, Dr. Robyn Hannigan, Dr. Kathy Johnson and Brad Smith spoke with the public in the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex about their plans for the school. 

Each of the five candidates were given five to 10 minutes to individually propose their plans of action for the university if they are elected.

They also discussed their backgrounds, experiences and different qualities that they possess that they believe would make them the ideal candidate. 

After their respective speeches, each candidate was given roughly 30 minutes to take questions from anybody at the event. 

According to the University’s Presidential Search Committee’s timeline, the university Board of Governors will make the final decision on Marshall’s next president on Oct. 28. 

Dr. Bernard Arulanandam, vice president for research, economic development, and knowledge enterprise at the University of Texas at San Antonio, talked about the importance of collaboration and ensuring student success. 

“Really everything that we do is really to maximize the potential of our students,” Arulanandam said. “So, number one is student success.” 

He also stressed the importance of how the university responds to and gets past the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly how the return will shape the University’s future. 

He said he feels that with his experience in academia and his experience with the school of medicine, he can carefully address a variety of issues present on campus.  

Dr. Bret Danilowicz has served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Florida Atlantic University since July 2018.

Before this, Danilowicz served in administrative positions at several other universities around the world since the early 2000’s. 

Danilowicz said he believes that as president, he can help Marshall’s retention rate, and can address the divide between young adults who choose to work after high school and young adults who choose to go to college. 

“What we are seeing here is a national divide,” Danliwoicz said. “Students are going to have to decide if they are going to attend University for four years or if they are going to go work.” 

His plan to address this divide features Marshall encouraging and helping students to get employment during their time at the school so they have both adequate experience and access to their careers upon graduating. 

Dr. Robyn Hannigan, provost of Clarkson University since August 2019, said her skills as a decision maker and entrepreneur make her the perfect fit for the role of Marshall’s president. 

She said she wants to confront the university’s dwindling state funding and said the school can use somebody like her in the face of a possible fiscal crisis. 

“I do not believe that we have any longer the luxury of looking to the state to support us and our goals,” Hannigan said. “You need someone who knows how to make decisive action that is going to guarantee success over the coming years.” 

Hannigan said her skills as an entrepreneur are valuable for addressing the issues of the university’s financial wellbeing. “I have raised over $50 million in philanthropic support,” she said. 

Dr. Kathy Johnson, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said Marshall University has the potential to excel as a big time player in the state of West Virginia and the nation when it comes to creating beneficial educational relationships. 

She said universities and other institutions with large influences have a responsibility to reach out to and help students around their area.

She said encouraging students to travel to Marshall University from around the world would allow them to stay in the area after graduation to help the state and build strong international relationships. 

“I really think that public institutions in our country have a really important role to play,” Johnson said. “A tremendously important obligation to our community.” 

She said she can make these propositions a reality with her grounded mindset and previous experiences.

“I am very comfortable with and eager to engage deeply with data and information to help advise with decision making,” Johnson said. “I love solving problems.” 

Brad Smith, former CEO of Intuit and co-founder of the Wing 2 Wing foundation, said he believes his unique line of experiences compared to other candidates would make him the ideal modern candidate.

Unlike other candidates, Smith has a history with Marshall University.

He is an alum and his significant donations and contributions to the University over his adult life led to Marshall’s new school of business building to be named after him. 

“I am non-traditional candidate for this kind of job,” Smith admits. “One out of five universities and colleges in the United States are served by a president or chancellor that came from outside academia.” 

He said with rising concerns regarding the place of universities around the modern world, action needs to be taken to prevent disaster. 

“In higher learning we are not of need,” Smith said. “50% of the nation’s colleges and universities will close or go bankrupt in the next 10 to 15 years.” 

As an alum, Smith said he feels a responsibility to do his part in helping the school.

“We consider any opportunity to serve Marshall in any capacity as the ultimate privilege to pay it forward to those who invested in me,” Smith said. 

The next update regarding the presidential search will be on Oct. 28 during the presidential search committee’s board meeting.