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Williams seeks BSU-NTC presidency

Philip Williams, one of five semifinalists for the Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College president position, was interviewed Monday. Erika Bailey-Johnson, BSU's sustainability coordinator, questioned the candidate about his support of going green. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

If a crystal ball could predict the future of higher education, it would reveal trends in technology, an increasingly aging population, more accountability for students and public institutions acting more like private ones, according to Philip Williams.

Williams gave a 20-minute presentation, titled "Higher Education at a Crossroads," Monday afternoon on the first day of his two-day visit to BSU and NTC.

He is the fourth of five BSU-NTC presidential candidates to present at a public forum on the BSU campus.

"There's a culture here of questioning and bringing people together to look at the future," Williams said. "This is not a place where there's been some big scandal that I have to clean up. It's an extremely well-run campus where the question is how you get to the next level."

Williams has been president of the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala., since 2006. Previously he was vice president for academic affairs and dean at Methodist College in North Carolina from 2003-2006. He served as assistant vice president for academic affairs at Gardner-Webb University from 1999-2002.

He also worked an Association of Schools of Public Health fellow with the National Standards Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Practice Program Office from 1998-1999.

While Williams believes he is a strong candidate for president of BSU-NTC, he has one skeleton in his closet he openly discussed Monday.

In September 2009, the University of Montevallo's Board of Trustees expressed disagreement with a decision Williams made without its consent.

A conflict arose over an Alabama Commission on a Higher Education provision that gives a university priority rights to offer classes in defined geographic areas. The provision states that if a college or university wants to offer classes in the geographic area of another college or university, it must seek the permission of that college or university.

The University of Alabama-Birmingham wanted to offer classes at Jefferson State Community College, located in Hoover, Ala., a Birmingham suburb that falls within Montevallo's territory. Williams agreed to allow UAB to offer the classes in return for its support for Montevallo to begin a Master of Business Administration program.

"The veteran trustees had been pushing me to get it up and running," Williams said. "For me, it was a no-brainer kind of deal. The opposition to the MBA would be lifted."

According to the Birmingham News, the Montevallo Board of Trustees voted to table a decision to dismiss Williams instead of granting him a semester-long sabbatical period. After hearing pleas from students, faculty members and alumni, the board voted unanimously to table a motion to accept Williams' resignation. They granted him a semester's sabbatical until Jan. 1 and entered mediation with him over disagreements.

"Everybody wanted me to stay," Williams said. "I agreed to stay on. I felt I owed it to (faculty and students) for being so supportive."

In looking back, Williams said he regrets not doing more research on Montevallo, specifically the Board of Trustees' function, before running for president. He said he was asked to stay on as president through the current academic year to "keep the peace."

"I found it was not a healthy place for me to be," Williams said. "I reached out to the trustees and they were cold. I knew something was wrong."

In his presentation, Williams talked of ways the next president should lead the way into the future. He noted the trends in higher education that his virtual crystal ball revealed.

He noted with technology, there should be a partnership between faculty and students.

"If we develop in our students a love of learning and an appreciation of service to others, they will embrace the technologies they need and will bring those technologies with them."

In discussing demographic diversity, Williams suggested establishing partnerships with assisted living and retirement communities and increasing opportunities for students to visit other cultures and the number of visitors from those cultures. He also promoted the idea of having debates of experts to demonstrate to students that "highly intelligent people can differ without being uncivil."

Overall, Williams said he was most impressed with the University's strategic planning documents.

"I have looked through them and I can say I'm extremely impressed."

Williams received his bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His law degree is from the Columbia University School of Law.

Next public forum

Presidential semifinalist Richard A. Hanson, interim president at North Dakota State University, will make a presentation and answer questions from 2:15-3 p.m. Thursday April 22, in Room 100 of Bridgeman Hall on the BSU campus.

Hanson will be the last of five candidates to visit BSU and NTC. After all five semifinalists have completed their on-site interviews and public forums, the Search Advisory Committee will make a recommendation to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor James McCormick by April 26.

For information on the BSU-NTC presidential search, visit