Presidential Candidate Helldobler aims to rewrite William Paterson’s story

The potential incoming president calls for strategic enrollment, external revenue and graduate education.

Rebecca Lorenzo, Contributing Writer

Richard James Helldobler, Ph.D., discussed his vision for his potential presidency at William Paterson during a forum in Ballroom A on Thursday, February 15.  Helldobler, who has been Interim President for Northeastern Illinois University since 2013, is one of four finalists in the running as the University’s eighth president following the retirement of Kathleen Waldron this upcoming June.

Candidates were asked to relay their top three priorities for the upcoming three years based on their knowledge of the University, explain if they should be appointed the president, and how they envision helping the school move forward. Helldobler’s priorities include strategic enrollment management, growing external revenue, graduate education, and  “branding and honing the William Paterson story,” he said.

“Populations that William Paterson serve are being pushed out, denied access to affordable, quality higher education, and oddly, the population that we serve is the fastest growing demographic in the country,” he said.

Helldobler’s first point of business includes a listening tour “to have a fuller understanding of the dynamics, the culture, and hearing your hopes and dreams for William Paterson,” he said. The candidate discussed working nationally to change the metrics of success to plans like the Delta Measure, to tailor to William Paterson students who commute, have family obligations and work full or part-time, which lengthens graduation rates.

Switching recruitment strategies to digital format is part of Helldobler’s plan for strategic enrollment management, which enables the university to better measure how students spend their time on the website and determine what trends of keywords and videos are more likely to resonate with them.

Alongside strategic enrollment management, Helldobler plans to keep the University affordable by increasing external revenue. This would help keep tuition low, renovate labs, provide student conferences, buy equipment and ease budgets, he said.

“There are solid research agendas across the University which indicate that there is an opportunity to increase grants and contracts as a means to bring additional revenue streams to William Paterson,” said Helldobler.

For improving graduate education and retention, the candidate discussed a variety of ideas including thinking about the curriculum and how it is offered to promote a better four-to-six year graduation rate. While William Paterson is currently “below consortium average for student retention, “it could come close to the average in the next three years,” he said.

A question-and-answer sequence followed the candidate’s speech.

Matthew Diaz, a junior, asked the candidate about the role he will take in fostering a safe environment for LGBTQ students. 

“I think making sure that we are inclusive in both our strategies of recruitment, the way we provide space for people to interact, and also to make sure those students and the successes and the histories of LGBTQ people are reflected in the curriculum are key indicators in terms of inclusion and diversity,” said Helldobler.

Helldobler was also asked to reflect on of environmental sustainability.

“If we don’t get our head around what it means to be sustainable and reducing carbon footprint, who will?” he said.

He added that William Paterson should share the University’s success strategies with sustainability and green technology with the community, such as the parking lot’s energy panels and compost of waste.

Helldobler was well-received by members in attendance. Adjunct and Staff Member Donna Potacco said Helldobler was “frank,” “receptive” and had good suggestions.

“It’s very refreshing when you have somebody going for that kind of position that sidesteps so easily,” she said. “He basically laid it out there so we knew where we were whether or not [we] agree.”

Jean Fuller-Stanley, Associate Dean in Science and Health, said she liked how he aims to better measure success for students who work and have other obligations since graduating in four to six years is a “major achievement.”

“Comparing institutions with working students versus those with non-working students is “doing us a disservice,” she said.

Professor in Marketing Management Department Steve Betts said shared governance is a constant theme among candidates this race.

“[The university] needs someone who will work well who will make decisions jointly with everyone,” said Betts.

Helldobler has served as Interim President at Northeastern Illinois University since 2016 and originally joined Northeastern as Provost and Vice President in 2013. Prior, he served as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Shepherd University, as well as Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the California University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. and Master of Arts in theater at Bowling Green State University and Bachelor of Business Administration at University of Toledo.

His notable accomplishments include: the creation of academic programming for NIU’s central location, establishment of The Center for College Access and Success, the launching of a $1 million campaign which raised the profile of excellence in NIU students and faculty and  working on NIU’s first public capital campaign with 87 percent to goal of a $10 million campaign, and being the founding artistic director for CalRep Pennsylvania, a pre-professional summer theatre program as well as the Mon Valley Ballet Theatre at California University of Pennsylvania. His research includes articles in the Journal of Dance, Medicine and Science and Quick Tips for Civic Engagement with Indiana University preps.

Helldobler served as a mentor for The Leadership Institute for the Association for Theatre and Higher Education and shared the association’s task force that retooled the national standards for promotion and tenure for theater faculty. He is a 2005-2006 Ace Fellows Program member in which he remains active. He recently completed Harvard’s Institutional Executive Management Program, served on the Board of Directors for the Contemporary American Theater Festival, the Renaissance City Choirs, the PERSAD Center, Pennsylvania Arts Collaborative and currently serves on the Auditorium Theatre Board of Directors.