Oswego, N.Y. – SUNY Oswego’s Presidential Search Committee conducted campus-wide open forums for five presidential finalists from March 20 to April 3. The candidates were Mary Toale, Karin Ruhlandt, Bruno G. Hicks, David P. Jones, and Peter Nwosu. Each candidate had a faculty and staff, community, and student open forum.
In the student open forums, all candidates shared two common goals – to increase enrollment and to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on campus. However, their strategies for achieving the goals varied.
The first candidate, Mary Toale, is the current officer-in-charge of SUNY Oswego. She has been in this role since January 2022 after SUNY Oswego’s former President Deborah F. Stanley retired from her position.
In the student forum, she heavily highlighted her experience at SUNY Oswego.
“I have a deep understanding and knowledge of this place, what those opportunities are, and have laid the foundation over the past year for the next decade,” Toale said. “So I can work to continue with this longevity that we have in prosperity.”
Her familiarity with the campus and the environment was reflected in the way she talked to students individually before and after the forum with ease, joking with them about the weather.
She further referred to SUNY Oswego’s largest enrollment class last year as a success. “I want to keep building on that success to improve student life at Oswego,” she said.
Three days later, the second candidate, Karin Ruhlandt, talked about her own success with enrollment at Syracuse University when she was the dean of the College of Arts and Science. Ruhlandt is currently a distinguished professor at Syracuse University.
“We increased retention significantly, we increased the number of students who graduate on time, and we also had a huge surge in the number of students who want to come to arts and sciences,” she said.
“Oswego has impressive retention and graduation rates. But I think it can get even better… and that will be one of my goals,” Ruhlandt further added.
Although she had a stellar resume full of accomplishments, she seemed to stumble at the question of why she wanted to be the president of SUNY Oswego and couldn’t give a concrete answer at the student forum.
Ruhlandt also shared her willingness to provide support to communities in need to succeed in college.
She acknowledged that certain populations need certain support, referring to students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities.
“Much of my work in Syracuse was done with specific attention in mind towards certain populations and embracing the success of those folks,” she said.
The third candidate, Bruno G. Hicks said that while increasing enrollment is his top priority, he also wants to build a strong community on campus. Hicks is the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Dalton State College.
Hicks said that as a provost at his current college, he routinely sets aside some time for his weekly walkabouts.
“In that walkabout time, I go over to the student union and faculty offices. I put myself out and around campus, and I would do a very similar thing as president,” Hicks said.
He further mentioned his plans to address the problem of food insecurity by building a robust food bank at SUNY Oswego.
“Every campus that I’ve worked at over the last 15 years, we’ve built food banks. We’ve made sure that those food banks are fully functional.”
However, SUNY Oswego already has a food bank called SHOP which stands for students helping oz peers.
Hicks also seemed to have a tendency to go on a tangent on just about everything – his topics ranging from folklore to artificial intelligence – making it difficult to pick up his plans for SUNY Oswego in his answers.
The fourth candidate running for president, David P. Jones, is a former SUNY Oswego alumnus and the current vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Minnesota State University Mankato.
Contrary to other candidates, Jones pointed out that enrollment will be a challenge at SUNY Oswego in the future.
“When you look at demographics across the state, New York state is producing less amounts of high school graduates. So, there are going to be less students in the pool to join college,” said Jones.
Regardless, he said, he wants to make SUNY Oswego an attractive choice for recent high school graduates to boost the numbers.
Peter O. Nwosu, who is the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs & student success at City University of New York-Herbert H. Lehman College, was the fifth and final presidential candidate.
In his student forum, Nwosu spoke about how his experience as an immigrant student has shaped his outlook on promoting diversity and inclusion.
“As an immigrant student, I want to constantly check if different groups on campus feel represented and have needs that need to be addressed,” he said.
In the forum, he also emphasized that his main goal as president would be student success.
After the open forum, the college council is now set to meet to review and approve the recommendations of three finalists to the chancellor. After multiple rounds of interviews, additional reference work, and background checks, the final candidate will be recommended to the subcommittee of the SUNY Board of Trustees for an interview.