DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Millikin University’s new president, James Reynolds, did not grow up planning a career in academia.
His original career plans was to be a scientific researcher.
Reynolds will officially take over leadership of the university on July 1, replacing Patrick White, who is retiring after serving as president since 2013. Reynolds is coming from Wilmington (Ohio) College, where he served as interim president from August 2011 to February 2012, when he was named president.
A native of Decatur, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Drake University, a Master of Arts in zoology from DePauw University and a doctorate in biology from Illinois State University. Reynolds and his wife, Sue, have two daughters: Amanda, a freelance copy writer, and Erin, a mental health counselor.
Among his first tasks will be opening the Center for Theatre and Dance this fall. He expects moving in to begin soon after the Fourth of July. Plans are also underway to bring students back to campus in August.
“A lot of work is being done with the faculty to consider how best to teach students in this particular environment,” he said. “I know a lot of that has been going on. I’ve been in the loop for a lot of that, but not all of it.”
Considerations include how to have intercollegiate athletics while the pandemic is still active, he said.
“I’ll be working with some of the other senior administrative staff on the strategic planning process that the university needs to engage in going forward,” he said. “To look at budget allocations and how best to use the resources that we have and to think more broadly about enrollment and how we can attract more students to Millikin so they can have this really exceptional experience.”
Some colleges and universities are seeing a drop in fall enrollment due to students deciding to take some time off in light of the pandemic, either due to concerns about their health or because their institution is choosing to offer online-only or limited in-person classes.
Millikin plans to open Aug. 24 with in-person classes, though with some precautions.
“The majority of students want to come and have that experience on campus,” Reynolds said. “Millikin is probably seeing the same thing that we have in Ohio. A lot of students want to stay closer to home now, to go to college or university. They want to have the experience on campus. (Due to COVID-19 closings and a move to remote learning in the spring), a lot of our returning students felt that wasn’t what they had paid for and did not feel they were getting the same kind of experience and they’re really anxious to come back to campus. I think for new students coming to college directly from high school, that’s probably a consideration, how best to do the first year of college.”
Millikin has made plans for food service, residence halls, classrooms and athletics to provide a safe way to resume campus life, Reynolds said.
“I tell people here and on our campus in Ohio that there’s no place in the world that is coronavirus-free, but we can be coronavirus-safe,” he said.
Sheldon H. Jacobson, a founder professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said colleges and universities are facing challenges in the fall.
“Because of the natural density of many college campus activities, it can be problematic to expect strict adherence to social distancing guidelines at all times,” he said. “Quite simply, many college campuses weren’t built with social distancing in mind, so there may not always be the space to accommodate ideal health precautions.”
A lot of Reynolds’ work in the first 90 days will be developing relationships with people on campus, he said.
“I know the role of the president and the work that needs to get accomplished,” he said. “A big part of that is developing trusting relationships with the people that you work with, so I’ll be doing a lot of that, and reaching out to alumni and friends of the university.”
Millikin has done a lot of work in renovating and adding facilities, he said, and his next priority is the athletic facilities.
“The one area I think we all agree needs additional work, or maybe more than additional work, is the athletic facilities,” he said. “Probably 60 percent of the students want to be intercollegiate athletes. I hope to be able to develop good contacts with alumni and friends of the university and start to have those conversations with them. I think also there’s a lot of opportunity at Millikin for new academic programming.”
The faculty and staff are the ones who bring those ideas to a university president, he said.
Reynolds took a sabbatical from his then-job in Iowa in 1999 and took a fellowship at Illinois Wesleyan University. During that time, he stayed with his parents in Decatur. It was his first time living in Decatur since graduating from high school.
“I was that guy on the old Holiday Inn commercial,” he said with a chuckle. “Living with my parents at 40. It was a wonderful year. I learned a lot from my fellowship, but more importantly, I had a chance to reconnect with my mom and dad and revisit my life here in Decatur.”
He’s glad to be coming “home,” even with both parents deceased now, because he still has friends here and has visited often. Millikin is the right “fit,” he said.
“This is a wonderful university,” he said. “I love who they serve and I love how they serve them and that’s really important to me. I was the first of my family to go to college and I understand how transformational this experience can be for students who are just looking for a hand up, so that was a big draw. Coming back home for my last chapter in my professional career is really attractive.”
Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/316NCoZ