CWU News

CWU Presidential Search Focus Groups Say Top Priority is Uniting Central Statewide

Central Washington university’s next president should be committed to diversity and shared governance and be able to create a post COVID-vision for the university, including a robust plan for CWU’s eight satellite locations.

The Trustee Search Advisory Committee (TSAC), appointed by the Board of Trustees in May, identified these preliminary findings to the Board of Trustees on Monday in a Preliminary Report summarizing a series of 12 focus groups with CWU employees and students. The Preliminary Report is available at

The report is the first of three that will help to identify the challenges and opportunities the next president will face, as well as to identify the qualities he or she will need to succeed. Current CWU President James L. Gaudino announced earlier this year that he will step down on July 31, 2021.

TSAC chair Erin Black, an anthropology alumna, said there was remarkable consistency across all groups in the qualities needed in the next president. While most agreed academic experience was an important factor, overall, people agreed that what is needed is simply a great leader.

“All groups are looking for an individual who can unite the university—departments, campuses, employee groups, and alumni,” said Black, adding that a passion for inclusion and diversity was a key leadership quality in all sessions. “They want someone who is a versatile communicator, who can explain complex situations and decisions so that employees and students understand what is happening to them and why.”

TSAC co-chair and vice chair of the Board of Trustees, Robert Nellams, said the committee members were pleased to find that conducting focus groups or “listening sessions” virtually didn’t seem to discourage people from participating. The CWU accounting alumnus said the virtual setting actually gave people more ways to participate.

“Most used full video and audio, but others kept the camera off; some phoned in, and others simply used the ‘chat’ function,” said Nellams, adding that one session drew nearly 150 people. “The best part was the incredible energy and overwhelmingly constructive feedback. People really are passionate about their work and about our students.”

TSAC co-chair Jeff Hensler said part of the effectiveness of the focus group sessions is thanks to the work of the committee, including representatives of classified, exempt, and faculty employees and administrators. The committee also includes members of the CWU Foundation and Alumni Boards and the president of the Associated Students of CWU.

Hensler said nearly every member has moderated one or more focus groups, and each member has engaged enthusiastically in the expansive outreach process.

 “The commitment and energy of this committee is impressive. They’re eager to find out what our stakeholders want and need in our next leader,” said Hensler, a 1998 CWU graduate. “Each committee member brings unique insight into the life of the university and that, in turn, has produced interesting and discerning findings that will aid our search for the next president.”

In addition to Trustees Black, Nellams, and Hensler, the members of the Trustee Search Advisory Committee include the following:

  • Andrew Mork, president-elect, Alumni Board
  • Carolyn Thurston, 2019-20 chair, Exempt Employees Council
  • Ediz Kaykayoglu, assoc. provost for Extended Learning and Outreach; Exec. Dir. Office of International Studies and Programs
  • Kandee Cleary, vice president, Inclusivity and Diversity
  • Lidia Anderson, chair, Classified Staff Employee Council
  • Mickael Candelaria, 2020-21 president, Associated Students of CWU
  • Ralph Conner, vice chair, Foundation Board
  • Sathy Rajendran, chair, Dept. of Engineering Technologies, Safety, & Construction
  • Walter Szeliga, 2019-20 chair, Faculty Senate

The Preliminary Report draws findings from a series of one-hour meetings conducted between May 15 and June 11: three with faculty, one with each of CWU’s three unions, leadership councils of exempt and classified employees, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the Provost’s Council, employees of color, incoming and out-going officers of the Associated Students of CWU, employees of University Centers and instructional sites, and the Academic Department Chairs Organization.

Meetings will continue and findings from those sessions will be presented in an Interim Report to the Board of Trustees on July 23.

Scheduled meetings will include, among others, exempt and classified employees, the CWU Foundation and Alumni boards, general alumni, the Wildcat Club board, and advisory boards of the academic colleges.

Media contact: Linda Schactler, chief of staff and secretary to the board, 509-963-1384,