WPI Community Engaged in Co-creating the Process and the Profile for its Next Leader
In these early weeks following the Board of Trustees announcement that President Leshin would depart WPI in mid-May, community members--faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees--have joined conversations to share their deep care for the university, for the students that WPI serves, and for the world our graduates enter as changemaker scientists, engineers, business leaders, and humanists.
To help WPI chart the best course for the search for its next president, more opportunities for engagement are being scheduled over the next several weeks—all part of the inclusive and consultative process that will be critical to helping inform the qualities needed in our 17th president. At the same time, due diligence is underway to assure that our way forward aligns with such WPI governing documents as university bylaws and Board of Trustee committee charters, advisory documents from relevant outside organizations, and best practice benchmarks from recent private university presidential searches. To help facilitate and oversee this work, our community can expect even more frequent campus visits from trustees, particularly David LaPre ’74, WPI trustee and chair of the presidential search committee.
In the meantime, there are already some emerging themes, and some common points of pride.
A leader who will “make WPI a better WPI”
Community members consistently described WPI as a distinctive university with enviable strengths that a new leader must build upon rather than try to change. Among the advances of the past eight years that have strengthened the university’s core are WPI’s investments in global scholarships, the expansion of our project center footprint locally and globally, and the creation of an outward-facing center that helps colleges and universities around the world apply project-based learning in their curriculum. Likewise, WPI’s next president needs to see “WPI as a laboratory for what the future of higher education could look like,” and continue to elevate WPI’s reputation in the world. The ideal next president will be a leader who embraces WPI’s uniqueness, believes in the value of balancing teaching and research, and builds bridges that the faculty, board, and administration can navigate forward.
Inspired by a forward-looking mission, documented values, and WPI’s incredible students and their futures
The new university mission—which was sent to and approved by the Board of Trustees in October 2021 after much community engagement—was seen as inspiring and true to WPI’s core. And while there was feedback that the community must be reminded, refocused, and held accountable to live WPI’s mission and values, there was recognition that in doing so, the sense of being a true community will be strengthened.
Also inspiring, and essential for a new president to further advance, is being a premier STEM university that integrates social sciences, the humanities and arts, and business and recognizes the essential skills that such courses and projects across disciplines impart and the value they bring to employers. Several said they were proud to regularly hear “We preferentially hire people from WPI.”
Aiming for greater sense of belonging, equity, and inclusion; commitment to access and affordability
While recognizing that the university has made progress—particularly in increasing the percentage of female students—participants stressed the need for greater attention and actions to recognize and value differences and open doors for more students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences.
Many stakeholders noted that the current strategic plan focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion—as well as access and affordability. “The intent is there, now we need to be sure the appropriate attention is paid.”
Among the cited opportunities for the university moving forward:
- Centering attention and resources on mental health and well-being can help the community rebuild and reconnect
- Doubling down on the steps it takes to provide the high quality, high touch education WPI is known to provide at a more affordable price to a more diverse population of students
- Creating more “unstructured” social and study spaces for students—and more time and space for interpersonal connection with faculty and staff to narrow the gap some students feel in being able to communicate with professors
- Increasing engagement with alumni of color, whose insights and collaboration could also inform ways to create a more inclusive culture that will improve the experience of BIPOC students and other marginalized groups
- Tackling the attrition of staff at all levels and increased job complexity of faculty and staff; understanding ways we can make the employment experience better for faculty and staff of color
- Managing growth with appropriate resources, including those made possible through fundraising
The significance of balance in distinguishing WPI
Rooted in the founding motto of “theory and practice,” balance is foundational to many aspects of WPI’s distinctive experience, and there was a lot of input on what WPI does well and where there is room for improvement:
- There is “loyalty” and “devotion” to the university’s core—namely the WPI Plan and the intensive relationships it creates; and it’s essential to assure faculty and staff have the bandwidth to keep pace with WPI’s high-touch, student-centered learning model.
- The expansion of the project center experiences available distinguishes WPI and provides life-changing opportunities for students; WPI needs to also find and provide more meaningful opportunities locally.
- There is pride in being a university cited for and aiming to realize balancing teaching and research—and a call to assure that research be directly connected to benefit students and the world, and that there are investments in infrastructure to support that purpose.
- Growth in our graduate programs has expanded diversity and fueled valuable world-changing research—and there’s work to do to better integrate graduate students into the campus experience.
Up Next: All Voices Heard as the Search Process Comes Together
On the process to recruit, assess, and hire the next WPI president, everyone advocates that everyone be involved, everyone wants to be kept informed, and everyone agrees on the criticality of getting the process “right.” The search process that honors the day-one commitment to a search that is inclusive and consultative will be the subject of the next feature in the search for WPI’s 17th president.