By Leighah Beausoleil, Daniel Fuentes
Allia Carter, executive vice president, chief operating officer, Board of Trustees liaison and executive director for the Center for Transcendent Leadership at Virginia Union University, was the last of the FSU presidential candidates to visit campus Dec. 9-10.
During their visits, presidential candidates participated in meetings, open forums, and interviews with FSU community members who will assess each candidate’s suitability as FSU’s next president. The final decision will be made by the Board of Trustees Dec. 15.
Carter said she is a native of Detroit and has been in the industry of higher education for more than 20 years.
She said she has worked at seven different institutions during that time, including public, private, and historically Black.
“What I have found in my journey is that I’m really committed to the idea of liberal arts and science,” she said.
Carter explained her job title, saying, “What’s most important is that I have the privilege of serving as the executive vice president and chief operating officer.”
She said Virginia Union University runs the “organization like a corporation,” explaining the president is the chief executive officer while she is the chief operating officer – with other positions such as chief financial officer and a chief academic officer.
“I’ve been in executive capacities for over 11 years – working at several institutions,” Carter said. “Leading leaders – that’s my job.”
She described herself as an “open leader” and a “great listener.
“My goal is to be transparent and as honest as I possibly can, while making sure that I’m respectful of the individuals that I talk to,” she added.
Meeting with Faculty and Librarians
Following her introduction at the meeting with faculty and librarians Dec. 9, the floor opened to questions.
English Professor Alexander “Sandy” Hartwiger asked, “You mentioned that you would approach running the University as a business. Could you elaborate a little on what that means in terms of your decision making?”
Carter clarified she was speaking of her current institution, but said, “What I will take from that
experience that I can bring here is the infrastructure and the capacity to grow the institution utilizing a business model.”
This way, adjustments could be made for budgets and resources and “we can align the plans so that we deliver,” she added.
She said, “Everything doesn’t always work at every institution.”
Carter said it is difficult to know everything about a university and what’s best for its operations until one is inside of it.
Because of this, she emphasized the importance of being “flexible” and “nimble” as a leader.
Economics Professor Luis Rosero asked Carter’s thoughts on the return of the investment in the context of a public state university and how that informs the presidency.
Carter responded by explaining that at her current institution, they look at return on objective.
“You must start first with a clear vision, clear, succinct plans, identified metrics and goals,” she said. “Once you do that internally, everyone in that community or area is very clear – they have a line of sight on what’s expected for delivery.
“The investment is the exchange of what you’re sharing – whether it is just a common good or a retail product,” Carter added. “Sometimes, it is a fashionable philosophy or an idea that is really priceless, but you’re showing that the investment that an individual is making will create a return in a long-term game.”
Psychology Professor Robert Donohue asked, “What are your plans for increasing enrollment and retention? What role would our division of graduate, continuing education, and online or non-traditional offerings play as part of the plan?”
Carter said enrollment management should not be regulated by a singular department or division, adding it is “the responsibility of the entire community.”
She said success with enrollment management is about putting in place systems that will keep students enrolled, adding faculty are an important part of that because they form the engagement and experiences that retain students.
Another aspect of enrollment management is identifying students who belong in FSU programs to ensure they are supported and given the help they need to succeed in those programs, she added.
“If you bring them in – you owe it to them to graduate them,” Carter said.
Zeynep Gonen, professor of sociology and criminology, said FSU is trying to be an anti-racist institution supporting students of color.
She asked what Carter would do as president to retain positions of faculty of color that are being removed through attrition, and how she would work to hire more faculty and staff of color.
Carter said it is valuable to look at the data and research to “ensure that the information on personnel is equitable” and look for any disparities across departments to confirm “we’re truly representing what we say we support.
“We have to create environments in our programs that really do support the faculty in that space,” she said.
Faculty of color need to see the services and support they need, Carter added.
“We really have to build infrastructure first before we grow capacity in any of those ranges,” she said. “The same thing you do for your students we actually often have to do for faculty, as well.”
Meeting with the Board of Trustees
During Carter’s meeting with the Board of Trustees, she started by introducing herself and discussing her background. This meeting was held Dec. 9.
“I’m responsible for understanding and seeing the bigger picture of the institution,” Carter said, “and making sure that all the leaders are able to calibrate the problem in different ways so that they can deliver on all the things that they promised.”
Carter said she considers herself a leader who is “innovative” and “flexible.”
“I do all of these things with public guiding principles of an open door policy, of being transparent – being respectful of people’s opinions and making sure that I’ve listened to them so that we can truly make the decisions that are in the best interest of the institutions.”
Carter said she is excited about this position because “the mission really aligns with the core of what I do.”
She said, “I’m really big on the idea of transforming individuals and ensuring that they are provided opportunities of learning that will make their lives more successful.”
Board of Trustees members asked Carter a number of questions relating to student retention,
branding, and personal challenges.
Trustee Brian Herr asked, “What ideas would you have to help us bolster enrollment numbers in the coming years?”
Carter said she is pretty strong, “an expert” in the area of enrollment management. She has previously served in enrollment management positions at other universities.
She said, “I take a strong business model to enrollment management. I try to connect the idea of the budget model and its revenues to enrollment.
“Where I focus most is in retention, and how to create models of a8ordability for students,” she added.
Carter said at other institutions she’s worked at, there are programs designed to “allow students an opportunity to drop out, opt out, and come back later to recover when they’ve left school due to financial circumstances.”
She said, “We have a lot of students, their households and families are in this middle of the road where they can’t get access to some federal funds, and they may not have the grades to get academic scholarships, and they just don’t have the resources they need to invest in the educational experience.”
Carter added she has built programs around helping students afford their education, “literally giving out stipends or using workforce programs to give them money.”
Trustee Michael Grilli asked, “I was curious when you decided to apply for this job, what brand did you think you were applying to?”
Carter said she didn’t get the brand at first. “I became an educator. I started as an educator and for me, Horace Mann, to see that part was attractive. The idea of affordability, of access, was very attractive.”
She said, “The more I started doing research, it was hard to find, but you can see that there were racial incidents that happened, and students didn’t feel safe. They felt like the administration wasn’t stepping up or resolving issues in a timely fashion.
“Those kinds of things didn’t scare me, because that’s the work that I do. I work in environments like that, and I help the community feel and go through transformations,” Carter added.
She said she thinks the issue is “systemic” and “it also might be a branding issue.
“You want to truly brand who we are and what we are so that it is clear to anybody coming into the organization so they can choose to join or not to join,” Carter said. “We should be very clear, transparent about who we are from the enrollment period.”
Carter said FSU is a place of harmony. “It’s about justice and equality. This is a safe space of inclusive ideas and all types of people, and we have to show that and demonstrate that and teach that.”
Trustee Hope Lozano asked, “What do you think is the greatest challenge you anticipate facing if you transferred into the role of president of FSU, and how might you tackle that challenge?”
Carter said, “All my positions have prepared me for Framingham State.”
Carter thinks the greatest challenge will be “sharing or understanding of cultures, climates and environments.”
She said, “You can’t get that often from reading. Sometimes, you have to have very different
conversations in smaller communities.”