As a candidate to be Georgia Southern University’s president, David A. Brennen, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Law, revealed his perspective Wednesday on the importance of athletics and of diversity in faculty hiring and input.
“I think that if you put education first, you’re able to really drive yourself to make decisions that are appropriate for whatever types of issues you’re facing,” Brennen said, speaking in a public forum.
He was the second of five selected applicants making three-day visits to Georgia Southern. The third, Carl A. Stockton, provost of the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Texas, is scheduled to speak at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Carol A. Carter Recital Hall, inside the Foy Building on campus.
Brennen touched other issues, such as the lack of a state tuition increase this year, a lagging graduation rate and the future GSU president’s expected role in both a strategic planning process and a major fundraising campaign. But sports and diversity were two topics that cropped up both during his opening remarks and during the question-and-answer session that followed.
“The role athletics should play in this institution, as with any higher ed. institution, is the role that allows it to amplify the educational enterprise of the institution. …,” Brennen said. “One of the things that’s very obvious is that athletics builds school spirit, and that is a good thing … because once you have school spirit, you have a reason for people to want to come to your institution, a reason for you to enroll students.”
Second, he said, sports programs help to boost alumni involvement. Today, higher education is suffering from a lack of resources, he said.
“So to the extent that we can get alumni to donate those resources to us, because of their engagement with the athletics enterprise, again, that is a very good thing,” Brennen said.
“Third, I think we should focus on athletics to the extent that it mirrors much of what we seek to cultivate in our students,” he said, adding that sports do this by teaching discipline, hard work, training and teamwork.
During his visit, Brennen said, he had heard concerns from students and faculty about diversity, especially the diversity of professors. He said he believes diversity is important not just in terms of including people of different races and genders, but for listening to multiple perspectives.
“There are studies that show that if you have a corporate board that is diverse both in terms of race and gender and geography, in all types of diversity, that board is more effective at accomplishing whatever mission you want to accomplish,” Brennen said.
Just as the first candidate, Timothy C. Caboni, the University of Kansas vice chancellor, had done during his forum Monday, Brennen declined to lay out a specific vision for the future of Georgia Southern.
Both have mentioned a strategic planning process that would involve many people in setting priorities for the university. Brennen said Georgia Southern has not had such a process in a while and that he would lead one.
No tuition hike
No tuition increase is planned for University System of Georgia schools this year, and Brennen said this means that fewer dollars will be available to inject into the system.
“So, the question becomes, how do we allocate those fewer dollars when they are sent our way,” he said. “Well, without a strategic plan, it’s just left up to the president, and I can tell you, I can make those decisions as president, but I think it would be much more enriching and much more beneficial to make those decisions with the input of everyone who’s involved in the process.”
He also spoke of conducting “a learning and listening tour” and called his leadership style “participatory leadership.”
Brennen has led the law school in Lexington, Kentucky, as dean since July 2009. He said it has 400 students.
Brennen graduated from the University of Florida Law School in 1991 and completed the university’s graduate program in tax law in 1994. He has taught at six different law schools, including those at the University of Georgia in Athens and Mercer University in Macon.
Selected applicants have been invited to campus by a committee doing the interviews before the state Board of Regents makes the hiring decision. Georgia Southern is posting video of the forums on the search site, www.georgiasouthern.edu/presidential-search. Click on “candidates.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.