Accompanied by a set of promising visions, Donald Birx arrived on the University of Idaho campus Tuesday. He spoke in an open forum setting that serves as an informal job interview for the five presidential candidates who will arrive in the coming weeks.
But as Birx’s turn came, his interview was certainly not the dynamic statement one might expect or hope for from one of just five candidates vying for the university’s top position.
Those who have worked with Birx can confirm the impressions we have of him just a month before UI will have its ideal candidate selected.
“Don is a quiet man, so he wouldn’t be the kind of person to walk in and talk and shake hands with every person in the room,” Bill Gonda, director of Marketing and Communications at Penn State Erie, told The Argonaut Monday.
Unfortunately, these are the very qualities that places of higher education seek from their highest-paid leaders — especially at UI, where more hands need to be shaken and donor checkbooks need to be opened.
While sociability should be a point of emphasis, it’s one of a few characteristics that an ideal candidate should bring to the table. And to his credit, Birx came prepared to address the university’s numerous shortfalls, primarily acknowledging that UI is in a “rebuilding phase” both academically and athletically — an assumption most faculty members and administrators would admit to.
A chancellor and professor at Penn State Erie, Birx proved to be well-versed in a variety of categories that impact UI — including research and the potential to grow as a land-grant university. Birx touched on athletics, though it appeared evident he’s yet to explore Idaho’s athletic roadblocks, which still exist. Instead, Birx referred back to the individual scenarios he dealt with at the University of Houston, most of which can’t relate to those he would encounter at UI.
The university’s initial candidate came in with a strong resume and realistic visions. But Donald Birx left those in attendance eager to see what the other four candidates have to offer — and for good reason.