WSU presidential candidate values workforce readiness, transparency

Wright State University’s second finalist for president said her leadership is rooted in trust, communication, accountability and transparency.

Deborah Ford, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, spoke with staff members, faculty and students during a series of forums Monday morning, and gave the university community an opportunity to ask questions about her experience.

Throughout the forums, she echoed a simple description of herself: “I’m a glass-half-full kind of person.”

Ford touched on the importance of intercollegiate athletics to recruitment and retention, the need to connect the university with the local business community, and Wright State’s current budgetary issues.

“This is not the first time and it probably won’t be the last time the university will face fiscal challenges,” Ford said.

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Ford has served as chancellor at UW-Parkside — which has just under 5,000 students enrolled — since 2009 and previously served as vice president of student affairs at University of West Florida. Ford has faced budgetary issues in the past, when the UW system budget was cut by $250 million in the 2015-17 state budget.

An aptness and finesse to control fiscal shortcomings will be imperative for the next leader of Wright State, as the university’s unrestricted reserve fund has dropped from more than $100 million in 2012 to $12.9 million as of June 20. In October, the university announced 30 employee positions would be eliminated.

Diana Riggs, communications and development coordinator in the Office of Disability Services, said Ford’s demeanor was warm and noted her managerial experiences at past universities.

“She has a wide array of experience in different parts of the campus community,” Riggs said.

» RELATED: Wright State students react to debate withdrawal

Ford attempted to relate to students by sharing stories of her undergraduate experience at the University of Louisville. The first-generation college student was a commuter at one time, and then moved into student housing. Leadership became ingrained in the candidate during her collegiate years, starting early on when she held positions like sorority president and vice president of student government.

Matt Almazan, a senior biology student, said both candidates thus far were “highly qualified.”

“Deborah seemed more articulate, and went more in-depth,” Almazan said. “She was very dynamic and learning-centered.”

Ford said she wanted to be a president who would communicate effectively with students, whether that be through social media platforms like Twitter or during open office hours, which she currently hosts as chancellor at UW-Parkside.

“A successful president is a highly visible president,” she said.

» RELATED: 3 takeaways from first president finalists forums with students, faculty

Back in Wisconsin, Ford has been highly involved in both workforce development and economic development boards for the region. She said she isn’t afraid to ask — and ask often — for employers to create partnerships with higher education, allowing students to grow in internships and cooperative education opportunities.

“We’re really focused on making sure the talent is educated in order to meet the changing workforce demands,” Ford said. “We have a group of baby boomers that are going to retire, but more importantly the needs in the workforce are changing. I see the role of the university as being a talent development provider. That is in partnership with K-12, in partnership with the local community colleges, and certainly in partnership with business and industry.”

Dennis Shields, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville was identified as the first candidate, and visited campus last week. He has served as Platteville chancellor since 2010, and has also faced a shrinking budget at the university.

The identiy of the third and last candidate will be released on Tuesday.

Staff writer Max Filby contributed to this report.


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