The first of four candidates for the new president at Lock Haven University said at an open forum attended by 20 students, yesterday, that he is “humbled to be considered for the presidency” at an institution where he sees a success story.
Rodney Hanley has a background in biology and taught at University of North Dakota and Winnipeg University before taking administrative roles at Lakehead University and is currently provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
He says that there are seven specific areas he’d like to focus on if he were to be offered presidency: Globalization on campus; student transformation; academics; financial sustainability; Community relationships; institutional effectiveness; and diversity and inclusion.
Hanley, drawing from his experience at Lakehead University in Ontario as provost, said,“The goal was to bring Lakehead to the world and the world to Lakehead University.”
“When I arrived there- I didn’t know this going on- but the institution was very much teetering on the edge of a very serious financial crisis, they had declining enrollments to the point where it was a very serious problem for the institution and so we were probably 18 months away or even less from closing academic departments on campus, which would have been a terrible thing”
Hanley’s answer was to develop a new academic plan of recruitment to increase study abroad opportunities and reach out to other campus in other countries. He estimates that when he arrived at Lakehead University, there were only 20 international students, but when he left they made up 20 percent of the student body.
“With that alone we were able to avoid the difficult financial cuts,” he said
Hanley believes that it is necessary for a university to develop student’s mind, body and spirit to achieve transformation.
“Athletics play an essential role in a high quality education, it cannot be replaced and will not be replaced… my commitment to athletics is unparalleled, I guarantee it,” he said.
A lot of what people know about institutions comes through athletics, making it’s marketing value unequalled, explained Hanley. This includes offering competitive scholarships so that LHU will be able to bring the best athletes possible.
Hanley praised LHU for being able to maintain academic excellence despite nationwide enrollment decreases.
”I think lock haven is far and away, heads and tails above other universities when it pertains to financial sustainability… it has done an incredible job of maintaining high academic quality at a time of declining enrollment, I think people should be proud of that,” he said
Hanley pointed out encouraging statistics, LHU maintains 16.7, 17.5 and 46.2 percent above the national average in graduation rate, earnings after graduation and paying down their federal student loan, respectively. All this while keeping tuition at nearly exactly the national average.
“Now is there work to be done? Absolutely, and when you think about what is the economic driver for institutions, universities in the united states, there’s been a heavy focus on the 18-24 year old demographic,”he said.
However, Hanley says that he no longer believes that this demographic can be the economic driver for institutions. Instead, Hanley expressed that LHU should reach out to adult learners who occupy the largest age group in the United States of about 60 million.
“That is a ready made market that we can reach out to and drive up those numbers. What that would require is a little bit of institutional shift, a little bit of institutional change, making the environment that we all experience here as conductive as possible to those adult learners,” he said.
It is imperative, then, that LHU avoids “the town and gown divide,” Hanley explained. Too often universities become alienated from the rest of the city and that kind of separation hurts it’s reputation.
LHU needs “active leadership to avoid that kind of stuff,” said Hanley.
But above all, the university needs to maintain constant and agreeable exchanges with students in order to be effective.
Hanley explains that one negative experience that a student has with an office may lead to word being spread around campus and the overall student moral going down. Then it becomes a retention issue and the institution may form a financial problem.
Hanley says that he wants to get all of his employees to focus on the singular issue, that they need to be student-centered.
Not only does Hanley come from Fisk University, one of the nation’s premier historically Black colleges, but focused, during his time at Lakehead University, on incorporating first nation and aboriginal people into the student body. Increasing the population of aboriginal people attending Lakehead University from 7 percent to 15 percent, the highest in Canada.
Hanley says that he wanted to send a message to the aboriginal people,”if you’re thinking about going to a university, you have a home at our institution,” he said
A message sorely needed at LHU, which has faced lawsuits over employee discrimination in 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016.
Today, Hanley wants to return to small town life to raise his two small boys who are adopted from Africa. He says he detests his hour and a half commute to work into Nashville everyday.
“I think what that has reminded me that small town life is something that is very appealing to raise a family in. So the prospect of coming to Lock Haven with my two sons and being the chief executive of a prestigious institution like Lock Haven University, it’s something that’s really attractive,”said Hanley.
“I’m impressed by his speech,”said Chad Miller, a Junior Physics Major.”He seemed to have an example for every conceivable situation.”
Particularly, Miller said,”I like him because he’s a science guy, he spoke about his research and that really made me happy.”