PLATTSBURGH — When Dr. Anne Huot asked her father if she could go to college, he replied with, "Why?"
"I gave him the answer I had frequently given him through life, which is, 'I don't know, Pops, it seems like the right thing to do,'" she told a mixed public forum of SUNY Plattsburgh faculty, staff and students as well as community members at Hawkins Hall Thursday.
Neither of Huot's parents nor any of the women in her extended family had gone to college.
She admitted that, during her undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire, she found herself lost in a college environment much larger than her high school and missed a lot of opportunities.
"I’m telling you that because, if there is one thing you will definitely find in me if I come here, it's a commitment to first-generation, first-family students.
"You have a lot of students that fall into that category."
Huot is the second of SUNY Plattsburgh presidential hopeful to visit campus this month.
She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in medical technology from UNH and the University of Vermont, respectively, and holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from UVM.
From 2007 to 2013, she served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at SUNY Brockport.
Prior to her current work as an independent contract consultant for a firm that works toward bettering higher education, Huot was president of Keene State College in New Hampshire from July 2013 through August 2017.
During her time at SUNY Brockport, Huot and the newly hired vice president of student affairs and enrollment management were tasked with reducing boundaries to student learning.
Their work included a four-year certificate for leadership development, fostering better student-citizenship and growing the international education program.
Additionally, they set up a diversity office, hired someone to run it and went about doing programming on issues of diversity and incorporating it into the curriculum.
Huot also had a hand in creating the university's strategic plan, which involved a series of dinners that included faculty, staff and students.
Like Dr. Laura Niesen de Abruna, the first presidential candidate to visit campus this week, Huot was asked if she would support moving adjunct faculty into full-time positions and increasing their pay.
Huot believes the question should be re-framed in the context of a strategic plan, looking at the role of different types of faculty within that plan.
"And then, how do you think about a reward structure that influences progress on that strategic plan?"
Whether a path would be made available to adjunct and contingent faculty would probably depend on their respective disciplines, quality of teaching and the pay scale, Huot added.
In response to a question about how she would deal with a racial incident on campus, Huot spoke of the work she and others did with the City of Keene.
When she arrived at Keene State, relations were strained between the city and college, so Huot went to the mayor and police chief to ask if they would partner with her to change that relationship.
"We were able to change the way that our students from diverse backgrounds felt when they went into the City of Keene.
"That change has required focused and ongoing effort, so that is something that you really have to continually address."
When asked how she would approach an organizational challenge, Huot referred to a scandal in athletics at Keene State during her tenure in which a college employee was found to have sexually harassed basketball players and interns, according to a 2015 article in The Keene Sentinel.
Following an investigation, Huot made personnel changes which included the termination of the men's basketball coach and the retirement of the athletic director, neither of whom, a report determined, had made substantive inquiry into the allegations, the Sentinel reported.
Prior to announcing her decision, Huot met with her kitchen cabinet — a group of senior leaders who had the confidence of the community — and several other groups for their ideas on how she could share the report's findings and her decision with the community.
Huot was initially skeptical when they proposed she hold an open forum on campus and lay everything out.
"But the more we talked about it, the more I thought, 'You know what, there’s nothing to hide here. I’m going to make this report public.'
"I would make the same decision again. I think it was a good approach and a good fit for Keene."
Another audience member asked Huot what she has done or would do to improve student enrollment, retention and graduation.
Huot remarked that she has looked at SUNY Plattsburgh's persistence and graduation rates, and senses there is some work to do.
At SUNY Brockport and Keene, she addressed these issues by moving toward best practices for retention, such as living-learning communities that all first-years live in, first- and second-year programming, and co-curricular transcripts.
The harder piece is figuring out how to implement those changes with the people on the ground with students every day, Huot said.
"If they’re not engaged in the process, it’s not going to go anywhere."
'WHY I'M HERE'
Huot said she left Keene because she felt she had taken the college as far as she could.
"There was a change in emphasis on the part of the board about where they thought the future of the college ought to be, and I didn’t think I was the right person to help move in that direction."
Huot has spent some time lately thinking about what to do next, and did a deep dive on SUNY Plattsburgh when the opportunity arose.
"I’ve had a lot of leadership positions over the course of my career and ... an experience base that could be helpful to you at this moment in time," she said.
"That’s why I’m here."
A public forum for the third candidate, whose information was not posted on SUNY Plattsburgh's website Friday, is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 3:45 p.m. in the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium at SUNY Plattsburgh's Hawkins Hall.
A prior presidential search earlier this year narrowed the selection to three candidates.
The SUNY Board of Trustees rejected all of them.
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