- Posted April 20, 2014 by
Greensboro, North Carolina
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Student voices in journalism
Guilford College Chooses First Female President In Its History
At Guilford College, one of only 12 Quaker colleges left in the country, we may not always agree, but we eventually come to consensus. Very rarely when a decision has come to a head are all parties pleased. However, we live with the decision.
I think the board of trustees just made a decision that signals to some in the cheap seats, that our thoughts count for something.
For over a century, Guilford College has had a man at the helm.
In a mass email sent to all students, faculty and alumni, Jane Fernandes, provost at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, was named Guilford's ninth president. Jane, who happens to be deaf, will become the first female president in the colleges history.
Fernandes first visited campus a year ago to speak about her experience in the deaf community.
Fernandes said, in a phone interview, that the first thing she needs to do is get to know not only the campus community, but also the Greensboro community.
"I need to get to know the board members as individuals and as a group. Not just professionally, but personally as well," Fernandes says. "I also hope to build relationships with the business community and create friends of the college."
Learning the perceptions of all on campus, whether students, faculty and staff are all on Jane's to-do agenda. There will be a learning curve in understanding a new institution, but that should take no more than a few months to a year, according to the president elect.
"Some decisions I may have to make right away. Others will come after hearing a full range of perspectives. Hearing those helps us get to a place where a solution can be found," she says.
Jane is becoming president during a time when higher education across the board is in peril. However, for many, her arrival gives hope.
Lionel C. Johnson, a Guilford College trustee and parent of two Guilford graduates said that after a week of deliberations, he was personally excited about the forward thinking that was put into placing Fernandes in the driver's seat.
"The board wanted the next leader to bring Guilford into the 21st century in a way that represents the ethos of our college," says Johnson. "Jane will challenge students, faculty and staff to reach that goal."
Deena Zaru, from the class of 2010, who now works at CNN in Washington, D.C., agreed with Lionel.
"I'm very proud of Guilford for selecting its first woman as President. As Guilford alum I value Guilford for being a place where people with diverse skills (such as happening to be an administrator who is deaf) can succeed because the College is guided by the belief that the institution should accommodate community members and nurture them.
"Selecting Jane Fernandes as President is the ultimate living testimony to this belief," she says.
Samir Hazboun, president of Guilford's community senate said that up until the announcement, some staff and faculty seemed to be sitting on sailboats without wind. Although he has no real expectations, Hazboun says "seeing the elders in this community reenergized was all I need to see to be very excited about Jane coming to Guilford."
He isn't alone.
Diya Abdo, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of the English department confirmed the energy Hazboun talks about.
"I am thrilled. Jane is a great fit for Guilford. She's an inspiring human being whose humility, genuineness, passion and vision are what we need moving forward," says Abdo.
Some, like State Representative Marcus Brandon, who is now running for U.S. Congress for North Carolina's 12th congressional district, knows what it like being a first. He was the first African American who publicly identified as gay to sit in NC's general assembly.
"We welcome Jane Fernandes to the Guilford County area, home of the best colleges in the nation. I am especially proud of the Guilford College board of trustees for choosing their first woman president in the school's long history," says Brandon.
And while Jane has some big shoes to fill, I think she is just the woman for the job. With a sixty million dollar budget and being a living institution, a lot of souls are depending on her to deliver.
She will have to make tough decisions and bring in a team that will maximize Guilford's niche in a sea full of competition and in a place where politicians keep finding reasons to strip away much needed funding.