December 5, 2016

Presidential Search Forum

Presidential Search Forum

In September, the Presidential Search Committee held two forums which were open to students, staff, and faculty, as they began their search for a replacement to President Schutte. The objective of the forums was to engage with the community and find out what characteristics or qualities we would like to see in the next president of Pratt. Between the two forums, many important and difficult issues were brought forth, the focal points centering around diversity, gentrification, sustainability, faculty and staff experience, and how to engage with the community inside and outside of Pratt.

Diversity and Social Climate: The topics of diversity, gentrification, and changing the social climate came up most frequently, and here are the issues that the guests presented to the forum.
  • For campus climate, we need a president who supports diversity and social movements. But how can we test the sincerity? In the interview process, we need to talk about the bigger ideas, but we must also ask about their previous experience with inclusion to determine how they facilitated and participated in issues of diversity and equality. How have they personally handled racism, sexism, classism?
  • We need to work on the recruitment and retention of People of Color, not only the student body, but also faculty and staff members. We need People of Color to represent the Pratt community and to broaden and deepen the way all students engage with the campus and with the outside community.
  • This brings up the issue of socio-economics--How is the tuition of this institution hindering minority students from applying and attending? What can we do to give more assistance to those students? And what can we do to ensure that students aren’t graduating with massive amounts of debt?
  • We need to start researching new models for the art and design school, perhaps we can find one that is more cost effective, and maybe we could make the cost of curriculum the same as a public college. Pratt cannot be an online school, too much would be lost without the in-class experience. We can't forgo the one on one interaction, but the current model is not financially sustainable. We need to start considering what we want our school to look like in 25 years. Pratt is a landmark, and we need a better quality of sustainability to continue being a landmark.
  • With the rising cost of tuition, how are we improving our interaction with technology? How do we even define technology? We need to see it as platform that has the ability to enhance our model of teaching and make it accessible for a larger, more diverse group of students. How do we change the vocabulary? In the interview process, we need to ask the candidate what their definition of technology is.
  • We need to diversify the curriculum, how quickly and efficiently can we introduce and normalize the teaching of minority artists?
  • The new president must also have experience dealing with Title 9 and issues of gender equality.
  • We have to consider our role in the gentrification of the Clinton Hill neighborhood, and really see how we are displacing the community. We need a president who is more nuanced and educated in the subject, someone who can see the aggressive, detrimental roles other schools have taken in the surrounding neighborhoods. We are a part of a historic community and we are in a very delicate position. We need a president who can think through the issues here, and they should not be the leader of the Clinton Hill community, but they should play a significant role in how Pratt students are involved in the neighborhood.
  • We must also do more with our social justice involvement. We have to take our place with social mobility and keep up with Brooklyn. People should believe the hype, how can we leverage that excitement to build the infrastructure in the neighborhood and to grow the school?
From these points, it is obvious that the next president of Pratt must have a great knowledge of a multitude of social issues and must be conscious of the way Pratt interacts and influences the surrounding neighborhood. But we also need someone who will understand the academic pressures of going to such a specific and intense institution. This raises the question, can a person from the industry do that? Should we be searching for a professional educator or a professional creative? Which would be most beneficial to the students, staff, and faculty?

Students, Staff, and Faculty: Here are the issues that were brought forth about the on-campus academic environment.
  • We need transparency with money. A president who will show us how the money and the endowment are being used. We need transparency, and someone who understands the importance of the students and works to help them financially. In the interview process, a good question to ask would be how the candidate plans to expand our endowment. What kind of upgrades would they make in our facilities and how would they help the faculty become full-time?
  • The concern with a person from industry is that they might follow the trend of moving away from full-time faculty. Many faculty members at Pratt want the students to have full time and part time faculty, a group who would share responsibilities with administration and understand that the students are what make this institution successful.
  • A person who can handle both being the head of the university and engaging with the students, while also being able to handle financial issues and have a healthy relationship with faculty and staff.
  • Someone who can see that certain departments need a better understanding of the mechanics of teaching. The candidate needs first hand knowledge and experience with higher education. Teaching students is at the center of what we are doing at Pratt, and we need someone with that background.
  • Candidate should be interested in transdisciplinary arts as we move forward and continue to move away from the “traditional” classroom setting. Creating a better interdisciplinary program would help build bridges into other departments. We need a president who helps accomplish this task.
  • Needs to appreciate the liberal arts education. The core of the job is teaching, and we need teachers who are hired for how they teach, not just what they can do in their personal or professional careers.  
  • This is not a trade school, but an important and reputable institution. We need to pay more attention to what the alumni are doing and how they have succeeded in the professional and creative worlds.
  • We need someone who can break the barriers at Pratt. It can be very difficult to engage with the on-campus community here. How do we fix that? How do we create a more open and welcoming environment?
  • Personality is important, we need someone who is never in the ivory tower. They need to engage with students, faculty, and staff. Communication is of the utmost importance and they need to build personal connections with students.

After these two forums, and a student forum held by SGA, the process of hiring the new president is in the hands of the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees. The search committee will engage with a reputable search firm and present this laundry list of social and academic issues, along with the preferred personality characteristics. The search firm will then begin narrowing down the field and eventually they will present 3 or 4 candidates to the Board of Trustees, who will then vote on their top choice after a rigorous interview process. Unfortunately, the candidates are confidential and this limits the involvement of the community in the process. With the issues of diversity, sustainability, gentrification, and community, it is all about breaking down silos and figuring out how to engage the students in this moment. This decision will have a tremendous impact on the Institute and the surrounding neighborhood. 

Written by: Taylor Rasnick

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