In March of 2021, Redeemer announced that Dr. Robert J. Graham would be stepping down from his position as Redeemer’s president on May 1, 2021. Shortly after Dr. Graham’s resignation, an article was released by Resound, Redeemer’s official publication platform, outlining the rationale behind Dr. Graham’s departure. Additionally, the article stated that Dr. David Zietsma, provost and vice president, would serve as interim president while Redeemer conducted a search for a new, permanent president.
While it has been almost 6 months without a permanent president, some students remain unaware of Redeemer’s situation. When asked if she would like to provide a comment on Redeemer’s presidential search, a fourth-year student answered, “Ummm I don’t think anyone even knows that we don’t have a president. I didn’t know we didn’t have a president; in all honesty, I thought that it was still Dr. Graham.”
It may seem ignorant that some students are unaware of Redeemer’s presidential search; however, many students do not feel the direct implications of the absence of this leadership role. Student Senate president Alison Nirula shares some insight on the matter:
“I have not heard too many students talking about the presidential search, as I think the president is not present in every single student’s everyday life at Redeemer, so it doesn’t stick out as much to not have a permanent president. We also have Zietsma as our interim president, who is doing a great job, so we don’t actually realize what it would be like to not have a president.”
Zietsma echoes Nirula’s response, confirming that the president is focused on the long-term vision of the university: “The day-to-day operations of the university do not change significantly in the short term, but a president works with the leadership team to ensure overall direction for the future.”
Although as students we may not feel impacted by the absence of a permanent president, without one, we lack an essential member of our academic institution.
Zietsma states, “A president is essentially the chief executive officer of the organization, responsible to the Board of Governors for ensuring that Redeemer University fulfills its mission according to the purposes for which it was created and that it does so in a fiscally responsible manner. The president also serves as the ‘face’ of the institution to external stakeholders, including donors, governments, post-secondary organizations and others.”
Even with Zietsma’s explanation, students may feel the role of the president is far removed from their experiences at Redeemer. The majority of students do not directly interact with the president, which creates a false sense that the president is not directly involved in student affairs. However, the president is actively involved in working with the Student Senate to discuss different issues pertaining to the student body at Redeemer. According to Nirula, it is a requirement that, at least once per semester, the Student Senate president meets with Redeemer’s president. Prior to the pandemic, in addition to the one-on-one meeting, the president would participate in communal dinner with the entire Student Senate once during each semester.
While much of what the Student Senate and university president discuss is confidential, Nirula was able to give some brief examples of items of concern. Currently Nirula and Zietsma are discussing issues surrounding COVID-19, specifically the vaccination mandate and student responses to the policy.
Nirula says, “Part of our discussion included checking in on how [Dr. Zietsma] thinks that students are responding and if there is anything that the Student Senate can do to encourage compliance with the policy.”
Another topic of interest is the Respectful Campus Initiative, which Dr. Graham had started as a way to “continue to foster a culture of respect on campus to make meaningful and lasting changes.”
Both of these topics are ones that heavily influence student experiences at the university. In regards to the Respectful Campus Initiative, it is a program that Nirula and other students would like to see develop. Without a university president, it is hard for initiatives like this to be formally implemented as they must first be approved as contributing to the overall mission and vision of the institution. Since the role of a university’s president is to plan for the longevity of the school, they have the capacity to implement and develop programs over a greater amount of time. For a program like the Respectful Campus Initiative, it is ideal for the president to be a key player as it would require long-term commitment in order to see significant change.
With Zietsma serving as the interim president, it is hard to feel as though we are missing an integral leadership role at the school. One second-year student commented, “I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a president. I thought Zietsma was just doing it.” This raised a valid question: why don’t we appoint Zietsma as the university’s president? When asked about the matter, Zietsma responded,
“I was thankful to have been serving as provost when President Graham resigned due to health reasons, and the provost role I would enjoy returning to. I think all of us—students, faculty, and staff—should always be open to God’s leading in our lives and exploring where he would have us use our gifts and talents to serve his purposes. For now, my focus is helping to ensure a strong, stable environment for the next president to enter into and being ready to return to the provost role when the next president begins their time at Redeemer.”
Presently, the Board of Governors has partnered with Phelps, a consulting group, working towards recruiting possible candidates to fill the position of president. Since the individual who fills this position does in fact have a profound impact on student life at Redeemer, students are highly encouraged to participate in the search. As of right now students can take part in the search by completing a brief survey sent to their Redeemer emails. The survey is not comprised of simple yes-or-no questions but rather asks students to provide examples of specific qualities and character strengths they are looking for in a president. The survey also gives students the option to highlight changes they would like to see in the university, with the option to select the areas they believe the future president should focus their efforts on. Just as we are encouraged to exercise our right to vote on our leaders of government to see change in our country, we are called to do the same within our school! Please do complete the survey by November 10th if you have not already and continue to follow The Crown for updates on the search process. We welcome student input and feedback on how the presidential search is being conducted!