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Cutler Hall sits on the edge of College Green in Athens Ohio on August 25, 2022.

Presidential candidates discuss goals for OU at forums

Since September 2022, Ohio University has been searching for its 23rd president as current OU President Hugh Sherman will step down from his position June 30. After narrowing the search to three candidates, OU invited students, faculty and staff alongside members of the Athens and regional campus communities to hear from those candidates at open forums in March. 

On March 1, finalist Susana Rivera-Mills, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University, discussed her aspirations for the position. However, on Friday, Peggy Viehweger, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, announced in a university-wide email that Rivera-Mills had decided to rescind her candidacy.

The OU Board of Trustees will now decide between candidates Avinandan Mukherjee, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Marshall University, and Lori Stewart Gonzalez, the executive vice president and provost at the University of Louisville.

On Tuesday, the university hosted finalist Mukherjee to hear more about his vision for the university if he were to be selected. 

Mukherjee said he decided to apply for the position because the university is at a defining moment in its history. He said he is optimistic that the university will have an excellent future due to the abundance of resources the university has. 

“We are truly an exceptional community,” Mukherjee said. “I think that we even look at this as a highly welcoming community. We have people from around the world, we have people from all over the country. All of that makes this place really special.”

Because he currently works for a university in the Appalachian region, Mukherjee said he feels confident about his familiarity with the area and with some of the opportunities and challenges OU faces. 

He said his goals as president will include growing students’ experiences and research programs and to create an inclusive environment on campus. 

To support student success at OU, which he said is not only important for new students, but also for those already enrolled, Mukherjee wants to implement a technique he previously worked with called 'Design Thinking.' 

Mukherjee said Design Thinking focuses on student experiences on campus and relays information back to researchers to determine how to improve the student journey. With the feedback provided, the administration can make changes on campus that are adjusted to the needs of each individual student. 

Mukherjee said OU already has a great foundation to work with, and he believes with the multitude of resources available on campus, he will be able to further advance the university. 

“We do have here (at OU), a social innovation, happiness and prosperity platform that can really change the landscape of the state, of the region,” •Mukherjee said. 

On Wednesday, finalist Gonzalez participated in a forum and shared some of her goals with students, faculty and members of the Athens community. 

Born in the Appalachian mountains, Gonzalez said she believes she has a well-rounded understanding of Appalachian culture, and the university’s location in Southeast Ohio sparked her interest in applying for the position. 

In response to a question regarding the challenges OU’s regional campuses face, Gonzalez stressed the importance of creative enrollment management to address declining enrollment populations.

Gonzalez was also asked how she would ensure the success of the university’s graduate students during her time at OU.

Gonzalez said that during her time at UL, she worked on raising stipend levels for graduate students, covering their health insurance and hiring mental health counselors who are better equipped to help more mature students.

Professor of economics Emeritus Richard Vedder addressed Gonzalez’s brief tenures at her former universities, and asked how long the university could expect her to stay in the position if she were to be selected.

"If I were chosen for this job, it is not a stepping stone for me for another job,” Gonzalez said. “This would be the job for me.”

If Gonzalez is selected, she would be OU’s first female president



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