By Michael B. Murphy
The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved Framingham State University’s Board of Trustees’ recommendation that Dr. F. Javier Cevallos be chosen as the university’s 16th president on Jan. 21 in Boston.
The board unanimously voted to recommend Cevallos – who is the current president of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania – to the Board of Higher Education during a Jan. 7 special meeting.
Cevallos was one of three finalists along with Dr. Soraya M. Coley, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at California State University in Bakersfield, and Dr. Katherine S. Conway-Turner, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Hood College.
At a Jan. 28 Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Chair Joe Burchill said he was present for the Board of Higher Education’s vote along with FSU’s Interim President Robert Martin, Trustee Robert Richards and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Richard C. Logan.
“The meeting went very well,” Burchill said. “Dr. Cevallos was well received by the Board of Higher Education.
“Once again, I’d like to thank all the individuals who worked so hard to get us to that point.”
Logan, who served as Chair of the Presidential Search Committee, described all three presidential finalists as highly qualified, but said, “The vote was unanimous that Dr. Cevallos had made the best impression out of all the candidates on the board, and as well on the committee.”
Cevallos, in an email interview with The Gatepost, said he was excited by his selection.
“I have known Framingham State University for quite a while,” he said. “It is an institution with a great historical tradition and a brilliant future.”
Vice President of the faculty union and Presidential Search Committee member Sue Dargan said the search committee was looking for sitting presidents or provosts who worked for “aspirational” universities.
Dargan, who is also a professor of sociology, described those universities as “schools we would like to be like – peer institutions that are doing really well and doing good things.”
She added that Cevallos’ 12 years of presiding over Kutztown University was “the first thing that stood out on his resume.”
Logan agreed that Cevallos’ experience as a sitting president was important, but it wasn’t the only quality the committee was looking for in a candidate.
According to Logan, increasing diversity on campus has been one of the most important missions undertaken at FSU for the last several years. This is a mission that the search committee and the Board of Trustees expect Cevallos to continue.
“We wanted someone who will come in and maintain that as well as take us forward,” Logan said, adding, “There is a need to diversify the faculty as well.”
Promoting diversity, Cevallos said, was an important agenda for him at Kutztown and will continue to be so when he arrives at FSU.
“I am very proud of the changes in the demographic profile of [the Kutztown] campus. We are starting to reflect the rich diversity – in all ways – of our area,” Cevallos said.
He added that “broadening the diversity of [FSU] – whether it be race, ethnicity, an increase in older students” – is one of the initiatives he would like to promote as president.
Logan said, “Dr. Cevallos is a gentleman who is going to be able to take over the reins fairly quickly. He is just going to understand ‘the ins and outs’ of the university very quickly.”
Student Trustee and Presidential Search Committee member Paul Manning said he was impressed with Cevallos’ interaction with students when the then candidate visited campus in December.
During his visit, approximately 20 students were invited to have lunch with Cevallos and ask him questions.
“One thing that stuck out to all the students,” Manning said, “was that Dr. Cevallos sat at the middle of the table and changed the setting of the lunch. It created much more conversation as opposed to a question-and-answer session.
“The general feedback I received was that the students enjoyed talking with him and thought he would be a good Mt for FSU,” he said.
Cevallos was hired as an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Maine at Orono in 1981. In 1984, he began teaching at UMass Amherst and became a full professor there in 1992. Cevallos would later be named the faculty advisor to the provost. In 1996, the American Council on Education chose Cevallos to be a Fellow. After completing his fellowship at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Cevallos served as chair of UMass Amherst’s Spanish and Portuguese department until he was appointed Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UMass Amherst – a position he held until 2002 – when he was named president of Kutztown University.
The selection of Cevallos as FSU’s next president ended an over six-month presidential search that began when former President Timothy Flanagan resigned from his position in May of last year. Flanagan stepped down as FSU president when he accepted the presidency at Illinois State University.
In June, the Board of Trustees held a special meeting and voted to authorize a search committee, which Logan was asked to chair.
Logan said he decided the committee would be made up of 13 members so there would be “a simple majority vote capability.”
Another advantage of having 13 members was that the committee could give several interest groups at FSU a voice in the presidential search, he said.
“We had the four trustees and we knew we needed a member from the Board of Higher Education,” Logan said, “so that made five.”
Dr. Carlos Santiago, the senior deputy commissioner for academic affairs at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, represented the Board of Higher Education on the search committee.
“I had a pretty good sense of where we needed to look for [the other members] – the bargaining units, obviously the faculty, and we needed some representation from the alumni foundation.”
Dargan said Logan approached the faculty union leadership and asked for two faculty members to be named to the search committee.
“That’s usually how things are done when faculty are needed for a committee,” she said. “It goes through the union.”
Robert Donahue, the president of the faculty union, chose himself and Dargan to join the presidential search committee.
“We did ask for volunteers, and many faculty volunteered,” Dargan said, “but we felt that given our experiences as department chairs and union leaders, that we really thought we’d make a positive contribution to the search.”
After having assembled his search committee, Logan said, “Things kind of fell into place pretty easily.”
When asked if Flanagan’s May departure posed any problems for the presidential committee, Dargan said, “I mean, that’s a little bit late, you know? But I don’t think it was ridiculously late.”
Dargan added that, ideally, a university would be given a semester to find a replacement.
“We did really rush to get our materials out. We had to have our university profile available to
candidates,” she said.
Despite this, Dargan said the early stages of the search went well due to “some long meetings to get all of the materials ready.” She praised the work of the search firm that was hired to seek out potential candidates, as well as the university’s human resources department.
“They were really both fantastic in getting things rolling,” she said.
Another issue that arose from Flanagan’s resignation – which Logan said the board officially received “just after graduation” – was that unless the Board of Trustees began their search for a replacement immediately, FSU ran the risk of not having its new president present during several key events in early 2014.
“What we wanted to do was expedite the search,” said Logan. “My belief was, and it was upheld by many on the committee, was that we wanted to have a sitting president in place, if possible, by the beginning of 2014 and, at the very latest, the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year.
“It would have been terrific,” Logan said of having a new president by the beginning of 2014. He cited “the historical significance” of FSU’s 175th anniversary and the NEASC accreditation team’s visit that will occur at the end of March and early April as reasons why he would have like to have had a new president seated at the start of the spring 2014 semester.
Though Cevallos will not be able to start until July, Logan said FSU is very fortunate to have Dr. Robert Martin as its interim president.
“Bob’s a terriMc guy,” Logan said. “Obviously, he has great qualifications having been here previously as the vice president of academic affairs. ... [He] has done a fine job.”
Dargan echoed that sentiment and cited Martin’s involvement in readying FSU for its NEASC
accreditation review and his moving forward on the diversity committee recommendations as reasons why “things are going very well for the campus this year.
“It can be really dicey to have an interim president,” she said, but “he’s really been great. ... People are communicating better on campus. He’s paying attention to the huge problem we have of not enough tenured faculty.
“He’s actually got a hiring plan in place that was approved to try and address that issue – an issue that really went unaddressed in the past.”
Very early on, members of the Presidential Search Committee decided on a December 2013 deadline for finding their final three candidates.
After two months, Logan said, the committee recruited a search Mrm and created an approximately 20- page document for candidates to review which provided them with information regarding FSU. Logan said, “The search actually began in earnest in September” when the university document was posted and the search firm began seeking potential candidates.
“The recruiters basically do their job by virtue of soliciting. They make phone calls to [potential
candidates] that they are aware of,” he said.
By the end of October, the committee had reviewed 84 resumes. Of those applicants, Logan said, only 10 were chosen for interviews.
On the weekend of Nov. 9, the Presidential Search Committee held 10 interviews in two days.
“Each candidate had about an hour and a half with the committee, so it was a pretty long couple of days,” said Logan, “but it allowed us to see everyone at once, literally, and we had a list of questions we wanted to review with the candidates.”
Dargan said the 10 interviews were conducted in a hotel room near an airport.
Referring to these “airport interviews,” Dargan explained they were conducted for the candidates’ convenience.
“You’re going to want to be somewhere near an airport so they can come in, stay overnight and then go back. ... Sometimes, they are literally held in airports. The candidate flies in and out.”
After two days of interviewing all 10 candidates, the committee was able to narrow down its list of finalists to three.
Logan said he was never once worried the committee would not meet the December deadline. He cited synergy within the search committee and momentum as key factors in their meeting the deadline.
Logan said, “The idea was to keep this [search] moving, and once we developed some momentum, the committee became very well acquainted and we really worked terrifically together.”
Though Massachusetts state universities must receive the approval of the state’s Board of Higher Education when choosing a new university president, Logan said the Trustees were never worried that their recommendation of Cevallos would be declined.
In 2012, the Board of Higher Education rewrote its presidential search guidelines. Logan said FSU’s Board of Trustees was presented the new guidelines in early 2013.
“We had a chance to comment and have input on them,” he said, “not having any awareness that President Flanagan would be tendering his resignation.”
Due to their familiarity with the new Board of Higher Education’s presidential search guidelines, Logan said he and the other trustees had a good understanding of how their search for a new president would need to be conducted.
“We were, literally, the first state university to go through a recruitment process following these new guidelines,” Logan said.
Most importantly, he said, the Presidential Search Committee made sure the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education was “connected all the way through [the search process].” He added that the committee scheduled an interview with the chair of the Board of Higher Education. Any members of the board who were interested in attending were also invited – including Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.
By keeping the Board of Higher Education informed of their progress in finding presidential candidates, Logan said he and the other search committee members believed they had a good understanding of how the board would vote when the trustees brought forth their recommendation.
“By the time we met as a board here,” said Logan, “we had a good sense that they were very high on our candidate.”
Logan said he wanted students to know the presidential search was “fair” and “done above board.” He added, “We have a good feeling about the decision. I haven’t heard anything negative.”
Logan said he expects Cevallos to “immerse himself in the university” when he arrives in July.
“What I think is going to happen, if I were to script it ... he’s going to wind up meeting with a lot of the constituencies – most notably the students. He’s a very student-engaged individual,” Logan said.
A number of students offered suggestions regarding how Cevallos could improve FSU when he begins his presidency in July.
Ted Dobbert, a sophomore sociology major, said, “I’d like to see him control the cost of things like housing and tuition. Whether that means cutting funds elsewhere or what have you, I want him to focus on making college affordable and accessible for all students.”
Ashley King, a junior English major, said, “I would love to see Dr. Cevallos improve on the graduation rates. So many people [at FSU] are staying extra semesters or even years. I would love to see students graduating on time.”
Monique Marie Vacon, a senior liberal arts major, said, “I think that our school needs to be more eco-friendly by planting trees around campus.”
Another issue many students agreed on was the need for greater diversity initiatives at FSU.
Secretary of SGA Kevin Long said, “There seems to be a divide in our school in some ways and I’d love to see more emphasis on bringing all cultures together and conveying that we are all here for the same purpose – to have an amazing experience and learn.”
Increased funding for FSU’s Multicultural Center, Long said, “would be a great start.”
Senior psychology major Brittany Vo, who is the student intern for the Multicultural Center, said FSU needs to continue advancing its diversity agenda.
“I’ve learned more from being exposed to people from different backgrounds than I have in a
classroom,” Vo said.
She added, “Increasing the number of underrepresented groups and then creating support groups for us at FSU will greatly unify and diversify [the university].”
Samantha Michel, a senior criminology major, said students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds need to feel more included on campus.
“Reading the minority statistics is nothing without efforts toward inclusion,” Michel said. “The students are here, but it is hard for them to be included or encouraged to be included if they do not have the support of the administration and the president.”
SGA President Larry Liuzzo said he recommends that Cevallos engage in a campus-wide conservation so “he is able to appropriately assess how and where he can implement changes, wherever they may be necessary.”
Liuzzo added, “I look forward to seeing what Dr. Cevallos will bring to the presidency – the good that he will contribute to the FSU community – and I wish him nothing but the best in these next few years ahead. Good luck, Dr. Cevallos!”