On Jan. 28, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Guiyou Huang, the 12th President of Western Illinois University.
When asked why he chose to apply for the president position, Huang touched on the importance of working at a university that has potential. He said, “Western Illinois University seemed like a place where I could use my leadership skills and my experience to help grow an already great university. There will always be challenges, but it is crucial to be somewhere where you can make a real difference.”
After spending exactly four weeks in Macomb on the day of the interview, Huang said that his experience here so far has been positive. He has been able to meet and network with many community members and leaders, stating that he felt “embraced” by the community. In particular, he has enjoyed shopping at Hy-Vee, a store that he had never seen until moving to Macomb, as well as seeing the abundance of deer that are always walking around his new home. He noted that he is excited to try the many local restaurants that the town has to offer, and that so far he and his family have come to love Yummy Chen’s.
In terms of the president’s goal and vision for his tenure at Western Illinois University, he will place a focus on leading the university to a higher level of success and distinction, as well as fostering a more vibrant, abundant campus community. He said, “Because of some poor educators who I experienced in my youth who were mentally and physically abusive, being an educator to me is about really helping people grow. This university and its many comprehensive programs have so much to offer if given the opportunity to grow both in terms of quantity of students and quality of the education and experiences we offer. This should be a place where people want to go for their education.” Pushing the university to be the best it can be and creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community is a priority,” Huang stated “I am not the traditional mainstream American, but I want to be fully accepted and embraced, just as I want that for all of you. Not because you are white, black or asian, but rather because you are a human being.”
Challenges the president expects to be faced with early on are COVID-19, enrollment and retention. “The university has a plan that will lead us to have 10,000 students enrolled here by 2027,” said Huang “I have asked the enrollment team to evaluate their plan and decide if it is realistic and achievable.” In terms of retention, the university can research barriers to student success and improve services to attempt to keep more students here from their freshman year to graduation. Rather than continuing to do the same things year after year with poor results, the president would like to try recruiting students from new markets using new techniques, in addition to hiring a marketing professional to help sell the university to students even with our limited resources. Whether they be international students or students searching for a more renowned school, he hopes Western Illinois University can be a promising prospect for them. With a hopeful undertone in his voice, Huang said, “Challenges by their very nature are designed to be overcome.”
When asked about funding for Tri States Public Radio, the president said that while he would rather be a “problem solver than be surrounded by the problem,” not every problem has an immediate solution. He says that by working on the general financial situation of the university, by working towards higher enrollment rates and retention rates, the university will have more funds and will therefore be able to fund more external organizations such as the Tri States Public Radio. He stated, “If strong support from the state and healthy enrollment occur, then we will be able to fund things like the Tri States Public Radio.” He stressed the fact that while he is passionate about making positive progress and change, sometimes these changes take time.
A recurring theme as the president spoke was a willingness to overcome adversity, make positive changes and use new techniques to move toward a more esteemed and well-known university and university community.