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Community meets first MSU finalist

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

MURRAY - The first of the Murray State presidential finalists spoke to the community and answered questions about the school, his potential role and the outlook if he is selected to lead the university.

Robert "Bob" Davies, president of Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Ore., participated in an open forum Monday afternoon in Wrather Auditorium. He said the strong connection among students, faculty and staff members makes the university a perfect fit for himself and his family. Davies said he is hopeful Murray State can become his capstone presidency and the place he ends his career.

"I not only want to be part of Murray State, but of Murray, the regional counties and the entire commonwealth of Kentucky," he said. "When I thought about the university, the challenges and moving forward, I just saw myself at this institution."

Davies answered questions from faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members ranging from potential budget cutbacks, recruitment and student enrollment, the role of the president, residential life, international studies, military and veteran affairs, online courses, school safety, the role of student governance, athletics, fundraising campaigns and diversity.

He vowed not to make any major decisions for the first six months of his tenure. He said that will be the time to "listen, learn and ask questions." Davies said he didn't have plans to bring in a personal administrative team and would rely heavily on current staff leaders to provide guidance during the transition.

He said the role of the president is based on engagement and transparency within the community and to serve as the spokesman for the university. He referenced his high level of student engagement while at Eastern Oregon University, including meals or coffee with students, a weekly newsletter, personal notes to future students and setting aside time to walk around campus each week.

Davies also said the president should be a collaborator in strategic planning to balance revenues, cutbacks and enrollment needs. One emphasis related to student recruitment is dominating the home market and with reaching out to the region through programs with city and county school districts and community colleges.

He spoke about the importance of athletic programming but with the caveat that being a student athlete comes first, then maintaining a high character, and finally a team staying competitive on the conference and national level.

Davies emphasized the importance of diversity within an institution so students can have meaningful and respectful discussions about their differences. He said diversity goes beyond "checking a box" and is vital to the fabric of every school. He referenced a Nemo pin, from the "Finding Nemo" movie, that he wears daily to honor equality and campus diversity.

"If we can't allow someone to be who they are, then what kind of university are we," he said.

He was asked about potential challenges in transitioning from a smaller college environment with just more than 4,000 students to Murray State, with more than 10,000. Davies said he was looking forward to integrating himself into a college with a high level of activity and engagement.

"I don't see them as challenges but opportunities to learn the nuances of this college," he said.

Attendees could submit feedback about Davies following the forum by completing an online survey through the school's website.

The other finalist, James Smith, president of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., will speak at an identical forum at 4 p.m. today in Wrather Auditorium. The Board of Regents will interview both men today and announce a decision or next step during the conclusion of the Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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