OPINION | Dear presidential search committee: Listen to the students

Southeastern is looking for a new president, but the students are looking to have their voices heard. 

Last week, the committee picked two finalists, and many students are not happy with their choices. Mary Parker, Joseph Odenwald and, arguably most upsetting, Eric Summers, were removed from contention. Current finalists are Sebastian van Delden and William Wainwright. 

Junior Madison Harmon said, “Many of the students find it unfair that we don’t have any input on who our president will be for years to come.” 

I have read the semi-finalists’ cover letters, looked over their resumes and attended van Delden’s student leader session. These are my opinions of the candidates. 

Firstly, Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Summers should not have been taken out of the race. Some argue the board didn’t want to remove him from his current position because he’s done exceptionally well, but that’s exactly why he should be moved to a greater position where he can do even more good for the university. 

Summers has climbed the ranks at SLU for 23 years. He has created organizations that aim to assist all students: from first-generation undergrads to those battling addictions, academic or mental hardships. He increased police pay and continues to give high school students a chance to interact with leaders on Southeastern’s campus. 

These are things a president should do: listen to students and faculty and invoke change. If Summers is already doing it as a vice president, why not let him do it as president? 

Vice President of SGA Joshua Freeman said, “Dr. Summers was the only candidate who knew the campus and community inside and out and with the 100-year celebrations right around the corner, I think the university would’ve benefited greatly from his expanded leadership as the next president.” 

Another candidate I believe was unjustifiably removed from consideration is Parker. 

Parker followed in her brother and father’s footsteps to become a student at Southeastern herself. In her student session, she stated she has always wanted to be the president of the university. 

Although Parker does not have the same level of insider knowledge like Summers, they ran on similar platforms that had students as a top priority.

Parker worked with SLU’s first and only female president when she was here, giving her a well-grounded perspective on what it means to hold the office that should not have been disregarded. 

Southeastern has had 14 presidents, all of whom were white. Sally Clausen was the only female president that Southeastern has ever had. 

The presidential search board had the opportunity to include diversity and inclusion in their decision, but instead, they removed the lone African American man and the only female from the race. Leadership that reflects the diversity of the university’s student body and stakeholders sends a message that everyone is valued and supported, no matter their background.

As an African American, seeing another African American in such a high position is inspirational. As a woman, seeing another woman in that position is also inspiring. I’m sure incoming and current students would agree. 

And yet, the finalists are – once again – two white men. 

Sebastian van Delden is from a small island in the Caribbean and currently resides in South Carolina. William Wainwright is from Louisiana. Their careers are impressive, but I don’t believe they are the best fit for Southeastern. 

Van Delden is a former Southeastern faculty member; he helped raise funds for a new computer science building, which is where the majority of his support comes from. But, other areas of Southeastern need attention. 

It has been more than 600 days since Hurricane Ida hit, damaging many buildings on campus. The storm caused a wall to collapse at Pottle Hall, but little to nothing has been done to restore the damage. D Vickers was also battered by Ida, leaving communication, English, foreign language and theatre students with no home base. Professors teaching these subjects have been moved to the farthest building on campus away from students – Cardinal Newman, a decrepit dorm that was last used as a quarantine ward for students with Covid. 

The arts are suffering, but van Delden and Wainwright want to focus more on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

Southeastern is not a heavily STEM-based school. The College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is the second largest on campus. Ironically, its students are left to struggle on as effectively second-class citizens, crisscrossing campus as they trudge to far-flung classrooms and professors’ offices. 

Wainwright, current Chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College, has formed partnerships with universities all over Louisiana to help community college students transfer to those universities to pursue a career path. He is also well-connected politically in the state. 

Those accomplishments and connections are amicable, but they are not what Southeastern needs. Wainwright has connections on a community college level, but Southeastern is a university. There are candidates, such as Summers, who have been working at the university level for over 20 years. In comparison to Wainwright, Summers’ experience gives him an advantage. 

Apparently, Wainwright’s name has been circulating for years as a possible future president of the university. One may assume they didn’t even give the other candidates a fair chance. 

The students have voices, and we are using them now. 

Presidential search committee, we, the students, know what we need from a president. Listen to us. Students interested in using their voices are encouraged to give their feedback here