Final presidential candidate visits campus

The final candidate in the running to step into Northern Kentucky University’s president position, taking over for James Votruba, visited the campus to meet with students, faculty and staff April 9 and 10.

Geoffrey Mearns, current provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Cleveland State University, met with students in an open forum April 9 as a chance for NKU’s student body to talk openly with the finalist and ask him questions.

In comparison to the remaining candidates, Mearns has the least amount of higher education administrative experience; previously he was a practicing lawyer and was appointed Dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State in 2005. In 2010, he made the transition into the provost position.

Mearns told the group of around 30 students in the Otto M. Budig Theater on NKU’s campus that he would focus heavily on retention rates, the Division I transition and how he could better integrate residential and commuter student relationships if chosen as the next president.

Mearns enforced the importance of keeping academics in front of athletics with a move to Division I. He said it is important that professors understand how athletics should compliment education and that the administration also act as teachers.

“The way you balance that tension is by hiring; it’s important that the quality of people that are in your athletic program, that are administering that athletic program and coaching in that program, recognize that while they are coaches, they are also teachers,” he said.

Increasing minority student retention rates was also of high importance to Mearns. As Cleveland State’s law school dean, Mearns was able to increase academic standards as the BAR passing rate increased, and ultimately the law school saw an increase in retention from minority students. Because of that increase, he was also able to increase the number of faculty in the law school.
“One of the ways in which the university may tackle that problem is to increase admission standards, but that needs to be done while retaining the commitment to access and opportunity and diversity,” he said.

Mearns kept some of his answers brief, but answered students’ questions with honesty.

When asked why he deserved to be NKU’s next president, Mearns said, “I don’t know whether I deserve to be your next president; that’s a decision you’re going to participate in making and that ultimately will be made by the Board of Regents.”

“I know they’ve got two other individuals that already came to campus, but they may be much better qualified than I am, so I can’t tell you whether I deserve it or not,” he said.
The students who attended Mearns’ forum were also unsure of his ability to take over as president. Senior Spanish education major Maddie Mann said she doesn’t think Mearns would provide “what we are looking for in student relationships.”
“When it comes to emphasis on academics, he was good and professional … but he didn’t capture our attention,” she said.
Mann, who also attended Jonathan Gibralter’s presidential candidate forum, said Mearns didn’t “address our questions,” while Gibralter was relatable to students and answered their questions.
In the upcoming weeks, the Board of Regents will make their decision with the collected input from students, faculty, staff and the community on which candidate will be the next president.
The remaining finalists are Gibralter, current president at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and David Eisler, also president at Ferris State University in Michigan.