The three finalists to be the 23rd president of the College of Charleston appeared on campus the week of Nov. 12. The finalists answered questions from students and faculty at forums in the Stern Student Union. All three finalists touched on the importance of a liberal arts education, history and diversity on The College’s campus.
Michael Benson has been president of Eastern Kentucky University since 2013. Benson served as president Southern Utah previous to his tenure at Eastern Kentucky. At Eastern Kentucky, Benson grew graduation and retention rates and doubled fundraising efforts.
Benson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in non-profit administration at the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate degree at the University of Oxford. Benson is earning a master’s degree in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University.
According to the Post and Courier, Benson began his discussion by underlining his dissertation on President Harry S. Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel.
President Donald Trump held a rally on Eastern Kentucky’s campus during his tenure. In light of the faculty circulating a letter opposing Trump’s views on the freedom of speech and thought, Benson stressed the importance of free speech “no matter how offensive it might be.”
The Post and Courier reports that Benson understands diversity is an issue more complex than numbers. Benson desires The College to greet diverse students and “places them in a position to be successful.”
Andrew Hsu is the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Hsu headed the engineering program at San Jose State University as its dean before his tenure at the University of Toledo. Hsu’s work has helped the University of Toledo augment its first-year retention rate by over ten percent, graduation rate by five and a half percent, research award by 20 percent and fundraising by 20 percent.
Hsu earned a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1986 and worked for Rolls Royce and NASA. Hsu’s career in academia began in 1997.
Hsu joked that he “could fix your buildings” if chosen to be president, recalling his experience as an engineer.
In addition, Hsu spoke about his upbringing during the cultural revolution in China. Hsu was quick to discuss the link between democracy and education:
“If you take a look around the world, the success of democracy is reflected in each country’s education. If there is true learning, young people learn civil discourse. If you don’t, and students are only educated on particular skills like technology and math, they won’t understand the workings of democracy.”
Beyond variation in course offerings, Hsu is passionate about institutional and cultural diversity. Upon learning at the open forum of the softball team’s now infamous Halloween costume choice a few weeks ago, he was visibly shocked and upset by some students’ lack of cultural consciousness/sensitivity/tolerance.
In continuation, if chosen to be president, Hsu said he would put those involved in this scandal in diversity training and have them educated by Hispanics on their own personal experiences with racism and exclusivity.
Hsu noted, “You can’t have lively creativity lively creativity without diversity and inclusivity”
Rhonda Phillips is the first dean of the Honors College at Purdue University. Previously, Phillips worked at the University of Florida and Arizona State University. Phillips will focus on building the community within and between faculty and student groups. Philips is a three-time full bright scholar. She earned a master’s and doctorate degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Throughout the forum, Phillips stressed giving faculty, staff and students access to the resources they need to make the campus a place for learning and development.
Phillips said, “It’s important to award people for their contributions” on faculty salaries. She noted non-monetary sources as resources for faculty compensation.
Phillips is searching for ways to increase resources for students. She is “looking at partners and state funding…. Funding the students and aiding the institution through more programs.”
On diversity, Phillips noted that, “The college should reflect the community we serve.”
Alexander Abraham, Lexi Caron and Capers Mitchell contributed to this article.