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Q&A with Future VSU President Bill McKinney

The Board of Regents has recently named Dr. William J. McKinney as the next president of Valdosta State University. Dr. McKinney is currently the vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and has held the position since 2008. Dr. McKinney will start his position at VSU this July.

The Spectator’s own editor-in-chief Amber Smith very recently had the oppurtunity to chat with the future president, who is still currently residining in Indiana. Dr. McKinney opens up about his thoughts about the facutly, staff, and student body of the campus he will soon be helping run as well as sharing some of his hopes and ideas for the future of VSU.

The physical transcription of the interview is below, but be sure to also check out the full audio interview HERE. Don’t want to sit through the entire interview? Just skim through the Q&A below and click Amber SMITH’s name prior to one of her questions to jump to that particular moment in the audio interview.

Q&A with Dr. Bill McKinney


SMITH:  So, I figured it’d be safe to assume that you and your wife will have to move down here. Are you planning to move over the summer sometime before July 1?

McKINNEY: Absolutely, yes! Once—hoping when we get the final word—that we’ll begin the process of packing and looking for a place, and I’m sure we’ll be making a couple of trips down to Valdosta. Absolutely. We hope to get settled in sometimes late in June. I’ll be ready to hit the ground running by the beginning of July.

SMITH: I’m sure they’ll have you do that too.

McKINNEY:   Haha, I’ll probably be doing some running even before then, which will be great.

SMITH: Just hit the ground running and just keep running for a while probably, haha.

McKINNEY: No doubt, a big part of the job for someone new in any kind of these positions is getting around, and really getting to know the community—both the campus community and the community that is Valdosta and South Georgia. That’s going to be a very exciting and very fun part of the job.

SMITH: I don’t think I got a chance to talk to you during the qualifying period (McKinney’s Previous Interview)  with the 4 [other candidates ] so forgive me if I double up on any of these questions.

McKINNEY:  I think this is incredibly exciting that the first of these interviews in any group in Valdosta is The Spectator. I think it’s particularly fitting. I love it that that’s the case.

SMITH: So let me ask you, how do you feel your experiences at your current university have prepared you for anything you’d do as president?

McKINNEY: I think there are certain things that have prepared me very well. First of all, we’ve got similar size institutions. IPFW is just the slightest bit larger than VSU. So certainly in terms of size, and I think also in terms of mission—they’re both comprehensive universities that really have as a core of their mission to serve their students and to serve their region.

And so I’ve been involved in that not only in the four years I’ve spent here at Fort Wayne, but certainly in my time in Pennsylvania as a college dean. So, those experiences have served me particularly well.

But, like I said, I’m also very keenly aware that part of the job—particularly of the new president—is to get to know the entire campus community. As of July 1—yes, I’m confident I’ve got great experience that will serve me well—but as of July 1, I will be the newest person on campus, ‘cause y’all have a lot to learn from everyone who has been a part of that community—students, alumni, the faculty, certainly the Regents, statewide, you name it. I look forward to that process. ”

"I’m confident I’ve got great experience that will serve me well—but as of July 1, I will be the newest person on campus" - Dr. William McKinney (Photo Credit: Daniel J. Young)

SMITH: I guess you’ll be on square one with the Freshmen so if you can get in and make some friends with them you’ll be able to learn together.

McKINNEY: I’ll tell ya’, it was similar kind of process here. When I started here in 2008 one of the first things I had to do—one of the very first things on my calendar—was to talk to the incoming freshman during orientation. I was able to say to that group, ‘Look, we’re both new! You’re coming here brand new, I’m coming here brand new. Let’s work together and have a great year.’ Of course, I haven’t been able to use that line anymore, but this year I’ll be able to do that. I’ll be new with the entering class, new with the new faculty. It’ll be an exciting time for me. I’m looking forward to it.

SMITH: Do you have any particular main issues that you’re expecting to come into when you get here, as far as the university is concerned?

McKINNEY: The biggest challenge I think in general that faces higher education—and I know that this is a challenge in the state of Georgia right now—you’re starting to see an increased emphasis placed on college completion.

In other words, the pressure that’s coming from our state capitol here in Indiana, and I’m sure Georgia, is to graduate more of the students we admit.

By the way, I think VSU does a wonderful job of that. But the question will be are there increased expectations coming from the Regents, coming from the governor, and to make sure VSU is always competitive and always responsive to those demands.

SMITH:  So are you concerned purely with the retention rate, as in graduating students no matter how long it takes or are you more concerned with graduating students on the 4-year plan, or does that not make any difference?

McKINNEY: The main thing that I’m concerned with, first of all, is that our students graduate with the best possible education. Regardless of the fact that we certainly would like our students to graduate—whether it’s in four years, whether it’s in six years, whatever the case may be—I would like them to graduate with the highest quality education. And one of the things that interested me in VSU from the very beginning was the quality of the faculty.

You’ve got an extraordinary group of faculty at VSU. I’m really looking forward to that. So regardless of the demands of retention of graduation, we have to make sure that we have the highest quality academic programs. That was one of the real attractions coming to VSU, and I really can’t wait to work with the faculty.

SMITH Well, on that note, what else other then the faculty got you interested in the university?

McKINNEY: When this opportunity was brought to my attention by one of my colleagues back in the fall, certainly the quality of the academic program, and the extent to which you as a university serve your Regents. You do wonderful work as what we might call an economic engine and as a cultural hub for South Georgia.

You’ve got strength in the arts. Your strength in athletics are just extraordinary. You’re known nationwide as a wonderful institution for intercollegiate athletics.  And so it was really something as I saw as a complete picture—as an institution that’s not only doing extraordinary work in the South Georgia region, and I would argue also statewide, but I think also an institution that is ready to be a national exemplar in terms of how higher education should be done in the 21st century. And that was the attraction for me. And that’s why I’m just so thrilled and humbled, in many ways, to be this close to be a part of it.

"The expectation that is falling upon public universities right now is that we’ll have to graduate more students, in other words, produce more bachelor degrees with less state funding. That’s a challenge." - Dr. William McKinney (Photo Credit: Daniel J. Young)

SMITH: Then where do you see the university heading specifically? Are you looking to build on our strengths?

McKINNEY: I think where you have to look in terms of the future, first of all, is you always look to your strongest hands. And there you look at the strength of your alumni, and what the alumni have been able to do throughout the years… You look at your strength in terms of your academic programs.

You look at what you’ve done in the community, and then you look at the challenges that face higher education right now. And what I’ve seen, for a number of years in higher education, is the expectation that is falling upon public universities right now is that we’ll have to graduate more students, in other words, produce more bachelor degrees with less state funding. That’s a challenge.

One way of addressing that though, rather than being content to simply find ways of doing more with less, why don’t we take up the challenge and try to find innovative ways of doing more differently. And it takes a special institution to be that innovative, and I believe VSU is that special institution. And I would like to take all of those considerable strengths and leverage them to create that kind of innovative institution that serves as a model for how you get things done at this point in our history.

SMITH: Well looks like you really seem to have your priorities laid out.

McKINNEY: One thing you have to realize, too, in these jobs, is that I could have all these kinds of great ideas, but they are useless unless you really can collaborate with everyone that is part of the university.

How you get things done is having a campus-wide conversation and a community-wide conversation, and that will really be the biggest part of my job—certainly initially—and as I continue, if I’m lucky enough to be ratified by the board, and that is taking these challenges and working with the university as a community to find creative ways of addressing them. And believe it or not that’s the fun part.

SMITH: I just want to make sure that if there’s anything that you want the student body to know I want to make sure that that gets represented [in this interview] as well.

McKINNEY: I want the student body to know that when I made the decision years ago to move into administration, and away from being a fulltime faculty member, I did it with the idea not to get away from students but to help as many students as I could.

And hopefully if all goes the way I hope that it does and I become VSU’s next president, the students need to know that I will be accessible, that universities exists for our students.

And as a president I take that very, very seriously and I look forward to getting to meet all of our students. I look forward to getting to work more with The Spectator—I’m always happy to talk to you.

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