The University System of Georgia selected Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny as Augusta State University’s interim president on April 18.
Kenny will begin leading the school when President William Bloodworth steps down July 1 to return to teaching. Her role will last until ASU consolidates with Georgia Health Sciences University when the new institution receives proper accreditation early next year.
Kenny is a retired educator who led colleges in New York for more than three decades. She served as the president of Queens College, City University of New York, from 1985-98, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1994 to 2009. She has also served on the boards at Toys R Us and Computer Associates.
The Augusta Chronicle asked Kenny some questions so the community could get to know her better:
Q: What were your thoughts when you got the offer from Augusta State University to serve as the interim president? How much did you know about ASU?
A: First of all, I don’t know enough yet about ASU, and I’m eager to learn more. But when I got the call, I thought that perhaps my many years of experience as president of a major research university with a medical campus could be helpful as the consolidation moves ahead. This is a time of great potential for the university, a situation I find very exciting.
Q: What will you do as interim president? What kind of involvement, if any, will you have with the consolidation?
A: I won’t be able to answer those questions until I am on site and in the midst of things. ASU is in an evolving situation, a time of fascinating pressures and possibilities. I hope I can be of use in reaching the best possible outcomes.
Q: When you are not leading a university, what do you like to do in your spare time? Any hobbies or passions outside of education?
A: Since I retired, I have been working on a memoir about growing up in small-town Texas, and my husband and I are beginning to write a detective novel – set on a campus, of course. So writing is a passion. I love theater – my scholarly books are on 18th century London theater – and of course I love reading. I also work at keeping up daily with my exercise program. And best of all, of course, is the time we get to be with our children and grandchildren.
Q: How do you think the consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University affects students and the community? Do you think it’s a good direction for education?
A: Consolidation will be as good as the ideas, creativity and hard work of the campuses (make) it. Given the economic factors of higher education, interesting experiments in consolidation are happening around the country. The Georgia plan seems full of possibilities, depending on the partners’ willingness and ability to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. There must be advantages to both institutions for the plan to work.
Q: What is your vision for ASU for your time as interim?
A: My job will be to assess the needs and expectations of the campus and build from there toward the new structure. I have had every indication that the faculty and staff of ASU are eager to work with me during this period of transition, to educate me about ASU, to listen to my analyses and suggestions, and to make this period intensely energetic and focused on the tasks at hand.
Q: When you served as president at Stony Brook University, the school moved from Division III athletics to Division I. Any plans for athletics at ASU? Perhaps creating a football team?
A: I love college athletics because I believe they build a sense of community on campus. Moving to Division I made a significant impact on the Stony Brook students’ sense of belonging, being part of a strong community. But now is not the time to concentrate on moving to Division I at ASU, a process that takes years to accomplish and requires money that can probably find better uses at this juncture.
Q: Would you like to see any colleges in ASU grow or see new degree programs?
A: It’s really too early for me to comment on specific programmatic issues.
Q: Why did you get into education, and what is your proudest accomplishment?
A: When I graduated from The University of Texas at the age of 20, I thought, “I never want to leave college,” and so I never have. Long ago I committed my work life to public higher education because I believe it is the most important sector, though it certainly isn’t the easiest. Those students who cannot afford to go to the Ivies, who rely on their states’ schools, provide the energy and drive this country needs, and the public institutions are their one shot to reach their potential.
To the second query, I would say my greatest accomplishments at Stony Brook University were leading the university to be elected into AAU, the organization of the 61 top research universities; winning the contract to manage Brookhaven National Lab; beautifying the campus and making it a more humane, student-centered place; and significantly exceeding the goal of the first capital campaign the university had ever had.
Q: What is the biggest problem facing higher education in the United States?
A: I could write a book on the biggest problems in American higher education – and maybe I should. There is not a single problem; there are many – financial constraints during this fiscal crisis are crippling educational programs, undergraduates do not always receive full value in a time when research is the gauge of excellence, new technological capabilities can be greatly innovative but they are often poorly used in higher education, faculty stand the danger of burnout if there is not enough opportunity to do new things in new ways.
I worry a lot about student life, particularly binge drinking and hazing, both of which can have immensely destructive, even fatal, consequences. At the same time, I continue to believe that working on a campus, trying to make the college experience better for students and faculty, is the best life one could ask for. And now as I move to the ASU campus, I realize again how serious I have always been about never wanting to leave college!