Why We Should (and Should Not) Pick Each Presidential Candidate

Over the past week, the final five candidates for Marshall University visited campus and held Q&A style discussions with staff, faculty, and students.

The search began at the end of last semester, after current university President Dr. Jerry Gilbert announced his resignation that would take place the following summer.

This list and its recommendations are based on the discussions each candidate had, their curriculum vitae and resume and any proposed ideas mentioned in their discussions.  


Robyn E. Hannigan, currently serves as provost for Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Dr Hannigan’s strengths lie in her own experience as a first-generation college student, and her combined experience at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Clarkson University.

UMass Boston is a midsize public urban university that has a considerable amount of commuter students.

Her time at a much smaller and rural private institution at Clarkson University would likely help Dr. Hannigan understand the culture surrounding the uniqueness Appalachia and West Virginia.

However, it is unclear whether or not Dr. Hannigan’s experience would lead to success in the bureaucratic aspects of being a public university president – specifically dealing with the state legislature and the ever-decreasing state funding for higher education, however, she does have experience establishing new revenue streams.

Hannigan’s experience leads to a president who is faculty and student driven, and it is clear she understands how important higher education is in regions often considered left behind.  


Brad D. Smith, former CEO of Intuit Inc, co-founder of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, Current Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of Intuit. Mr. Smith is unique among the candidates.

He is the only finalist who is a Marshall University alumnus and the only who does not have any experience working in higher education.

Mr. Smith understands the learning curve may be steep, and acknowledges a strong provost and administration will be necessary to achieve success.

Smith’s strengths are found in his genuine care and connection to Marshall University, Huntington and the state as a whole.

He also has experience working with state and federal governments as well as community stakeholders in a way that may be something relatively impossible to compare to the other candidates.

Mr. Smith also seems to deeply understand the future of technology and work, in greater ways than other candidates. 

In my opinion, the controversy surrounding Mr. Smith being considered for university president have been exaggerated.

Mr. Smith was not planning on being considered for this position when he donated $25 million to the university a few years ago, and there is no way he could have predicted the role would be open.

Much of this controversy seems to stem out of a fear of many progressives of any wealthy businessman stepping into something outside of his area of expertise – as if every wealthy businessman is as chaotic and harmful as former President Trump.

It is clear Mr. Smith is running because he cares about the future of the university – with no asterisk.

Although his experience is wide spread, and intelligence and charisma can do wonders, his lack of experience in higher education, especially as a faculty member, need to be seriously considered.

His ideas of expanding Marshall to have a higher number of online degrees to generate revenue seem interesting in theory, but need to be fleshed out.

Mr. Smith deserves to be considered like any other candidate, with his ideas and experienced compared as evenly as possible with the other finalists.  


Kathy E. Johnson, currently serves as Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Dr. Johnson has experience as phycology professor and as a dean, and overseeing a Division of Undergraduate Education.

This gives her the knowledge and ability to work with deans and improve programs from the inside out. Dr. Johnson believes strengthening our programs will be the best way to recruit out-of-state students and to keep graduates in the region.

Dr. Johnson also has experience working with a performance-based funding model in her state, something that she believes would be beneficial for Marshall if West Virginia moves to that model.

It is clear Dr. Johnson has the experience and pedigree that would make her an effective president, especially when working with state governments.

Dr. Johnson is one of the strongest candidates remaining, however the goals of bringing in outside students has always been more challenging at Marshall compared to other public universities.

One of President Gilbert’s biggest challenges has been the shrinking enrollment which he expected to grow when he became president.

It is yet to be seen how differently her approach would be when comparing her strategy to President Gilbert’s, which will be an essential part of Marshall’s success in the future.  


Bernard P. Arulanandam, currently serves as the Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise at the University of Texas San Antonio and is a professor in biology at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Dr. Arulanandam is likely the choice for the candidate most likely to increase the capacity for research taking place at Marshall.

His experience as a leader in his university, developing research initiatives, and receiving grants.

It would be likely that Marshall could achieve R1 status with his encouragement.

Dr. Arulanandam believes how Marshall gets out of the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial to the university’s future.

His vision of Marshall working much closer with K-12 education is something he and Dr. Danilowicz believe to be essential for the future of enrollment.

Although his pedigree is impressive, the response to COVID-19 that he considers to be essential seems to be overstated and largely done.

Marshall has had an effective response and boasts an 80% vaccination rate through President Gilbert.

It would be difficult imagining how important having an expert in this field leading the university will be going into 2022.  


Bret S. Danilowicz, currently provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Florida Atlantic University, and formerly served as Dean of College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

Dr. Danilowicz understands the relationship between the president and the provost and the faculty extremely well.

His ideas of releasing some of the burden placed on the faculty with the current 4/4 schedule with slightly larger class sizes and a more balanced mix of online or hybrid classes are long overdue.

Dr. Danilowicz also understands how important of an issue declining enrollment is, and has a multi-pronged approach to how stabilize enrollment and cause it to grow.

Dr. Danilowicz also spoke about the importance of athletics and finding an athletic director as Conference-USA seems to be about to split apart.

Dr. Danilowicz is a strong candidate and leader with a wide array of ideas and experience, and has overseen a large boost in four-year graduation rates.

However, it is unclear how well he understands the region and how much experience he has working with state government.

Dr. Danilowicz acknowledged the lack of understanding in all of the issues Marshall is facing, specifically with diversity, equity, and inclusion, but his leadership and prior experience should make him capable to finding and implementing solutions.