Patrick Farrell: Open letter to the next President of Marshall University

Dear Prospective Candidate,

The hard part of applying for a competitive position like this is that you don’t always know what the search committee is looking for. I can help with that.

Over the last month, our search committee hosted a series of community meetings and talked with hundreds of people about the university’s challenges and the desired characteristics of our next president. Here is what we heard.

To start, our next president needs to understand who we are.

Marshall is a caring place for students who don’t want to be treated like numbers. More than one-third of our undergraduates are the first in their family to attend college, and when they’re on campus, they want to feel like they’re with family.

We want a president who is approachable and authentic. When people see you at the grocery store, they’re going to say hello and want to have a conversation with you. When students see you on campus, they’ll undoubtedly ask to take a picture with you. And when you engage with our faculty and staff, they’ll expect you to earn their trust by demonstrating how your purpose and passions as a leader align with our university mission and the important work we do.

Marshall is an inclusive community, so we don’t mind if you’re not from here. It has been almost 40 years since a native-born West Virginian was our president. And we don’t mind if you’re not part of our proud and active alumni. We’ve never had a president who was a graduate of Marshall.

But if you’ve watched the movie We Are Marshall and still don’t understand how an event 50 years ago forged a town-and-gown bond that is unlike any other in the country, you are probably not the right fit for us.

In addition to leading our first-rate academic programs, our next president will need to possess the skills and experiences of a modern chief executive officer to help us creatively address the challenges that are affecting many regional public universities.

Our state-funded support is decreasing, so we’re going to need a charismatic fundraiser who can lobby lawmakers and raise private funds. Our enrollment is declining, so we’re going to need a student-focused innovator who can lead an agile team to experiment with new growth strategies. And our students and their families cannot continue to bear tuition and fee increases, so we’re going to need a determined manager who will insist on achieving operational excellence and fiscal accountability.

If you have the courage to tackle those challenges, come visit Marshall. You’ll feel excitement in the air and see that we have incredible opportunities in front of us. We have a strong brand name, comprehensive academic programs, a proud tradition of winning sports teams, a welcoming city, and a desire to be world-class.

We are the NCAA Division-I national champions in men’s soccer, and we intend to be the two-time defending national champions by the time you start. We can do anything at Marshall.

When you become our president, you’ll be at the helm of the biggest economic driver in the region. You’ll lead a team that will make our academic programs the envy of the nation. You’ll build our aviation program into a new source of jobs for our graduates. You’ll grow our interdisciplinary research efforts that study today’s toughest challenges. You’ll harness the strengths of our medical school and health sciences programs to improve the quality of life for people in our community, across the nation, and around the world.

And you’ll do it all while working on a wonderful campus and living in a magnificent home that borders a beautiful city park.

We are incredibly proud of our school and optimistic about our future. If you are the right fit for us, this job will be a tremendous opportunity for you, and one day you’ll look back and tell people how lucky you were to join us at exactly the right time.

We are … just getting started.


Patrick Farrell
Marshall University Board of Governors