If you ask students at St. Thomas University how they feel about the new school president and vice-chancellor, they will tell you they don’t know what to feel — mainly because they don’t know who the president is.
Dawn Russell, who served in the role since 2011, is officially set to retire on June 30. She went on administrative leave in November 2022. STU later announced on Feb. 8 that Nauman Farooqi had been appointed as the university’s next president and vice-chancellor on July 1.
Ethan Tumwine, a STU student on the men’s basketball team, said he had no idea that Russell left and that Farooqi was chosen to replace her. But he said it wasn’t a matter of him not wanting to hear about it.
“If I heard more about it, maybe I’d be more interested. It seems like it’s not really that publicized,” he said.
“I promise you. Eighty per cent of my friends probably wouldn’t know there was a president.”
Laura Brown, a member of the Tommies hockey team, didn’t know STU had a new president.
One of Brown’s teammates, Libby Howett, who sat across the table informed her that Russell attended their hockey games.
Brown, however, has never before recognized Russell at the games and said she felt embarrassed that she didn’t know Russell attended.
She said she would have focused more on the evolving president story if the impact on students was more transparent.
Howett said it would be useful for people to know more about the state of the STU president.
“But those emails [about the president] — this sounds awful — but they just go into my junk mail,” she said.
Fernanda Sanchez, a first-year international student, said the STU president feels like a ghost on campus because students don’t see them on campus.
“It’s intimidating or scary,” said Sanchez.
Any time Sanchez saw Russell, she wondered if something serious had happened, as she felt seeing the president did not feel like a normal occurrence.
Sanchez said that it would be cool if the incoming president and vice-chancellor, Nauman Farooqi, would go around campus to meet different clubs, groups and people.
Rigel Testas, a first-year international student, agreed that she wanted to see the president around the campus interacting with students to get to know them and the community.
As an international student, she thinks it’s cool that Farooqi grew up in Pakistan.
“He will know what are the challenges for international students in school,” she said, adding that he will understand the challenges of coming to a new country.
Alejandra Baca, who is also a first-year international student, said that students have to put in some effort, like reading emails and articles about the president, to understand the situation.
“You can’t really argue for your rights if you don’t know what your rights are,” she said.
Baca also thought that it would be beneficial for the president to get to know people on campus. That way, she could talk to the president about issues and how to improve the university.
Farooqi told The Aquinian on Feb. 20 that he wants to meet a lot of people on campus and he would prioritize attending university functions and campus events to learn about STU’s inner workings.
“I’d like to go around [to] a lot of people … we start with the administration, with the faculty, some student leadership organizations,” he said at the time.
Jeffrey Carleton, associate vice president of communications at STU, said students have had ample opportunity to interact with the president, explaining that students were informed when the two candidates were selected. They were notified of the dates of the candidacy presentations and those presentations were live streamed and left online for students to view.
Carleton explained that STU tracks open rates on student notice emails. The open rate for student notices was over 30 per cent, which he said was very good.
“We’re going to create the circumstances or conditions where students can make themselves knowledgeable, contribute in any number of ways, and definitely have an influence on the outcome,” said Carleton.
But student concerns may be remedied when Farooqi takes office in July, he said, explaining that a president has a very busy schedule both socially and academically. The more the president interacts with the community, like going to the Tim Hortons in James Dunn Hall and getting interviewed by The Aquinian, Carleton said, the more the president can get to know students.
“I think Dr. Farooqi has signalled that that’s very much his approach, especially for someone coming to a new university that they hadn’t been to before, either as a student or a professor,” said Carleton.