Coffee Talk: A Sit Down with President Helldobler


Rebecca Lorenzo, Copy Editor

In a world where socializing is completely digitized, chatting with William Paterson University president Richard Helldobler is like coffee with a good friend.

Helldobler has been slaving away on his listening tours – from pizza with the president to meetings with SGA, he is sure to listen before taking action.

One sit-down with the president is all it takes to see he is true. Between sips from his clutched cup, he poetically strings answers radiating dedication to ensuring everyone’s concerns are heard. He is present and in-the-moment.

He also has a passionate heart for the community – just what stressed students need.

“I continue to be thrilled to be here,” he said. “The diversity of it is good, the energy is good, and the population of students we serve is critically needed in today’s world.”

A listener of the community

“Pizza with the President” is one of many ways Helldobler serves up a chance to hear concerns. Students are loving it – they demolished 18 pizzas in the first hour, he said.

Since then, he has met with 500 people with 20 more sessions with students and faculty to boot. Patterned concerns include advisement, food quality, graduate assistance and the “Paterson Shuffle,” where students scramble from office to office for help, he said.

“I think what [the tours] have done is its allowed people from different parts of the university to come and ask questions, and it has given the community a better sense of what other people are thinking.”

A believer of the narrative

Changing the school’s narrative was one of Helldobler’s strongest campaign points. Sixty percent of students say William Paterson was their first college choice. Banter around campus contradicts this – many call it a “fall back school,” he said.

“The community loves the school but we are our own worst enemy.”

Discussion with students prove Willy P is more than a fall back. Its homey feel, financial packages, academic programs, and more are common reasons students apply. The school also educates a lot of first generation and underrepresented populations.

“The more we can talk about that and the more were proud of the fact that we do that, the better our brand gets in the long haul,” he said.

A pioneer of progression

Such change is in the president’s future agenda. Other issues to address include focusing more on students, streamlining faculty assistance for students, evaluating the needs of new students and increasing multicultural services.

William Paterson is renowned for serving multicultural and underrepresented populations. The achievement gap for such groups is significantly wide. Still, there is no support center for multicultural and LGBTQ students.

Beginning dialogue to find out what the public wants for it is step one. Helldobler hopes to talk to the community in December, and plan through spring and summer.The center will hopefully debut in fall 2019, he said.

“I didn’t want to come in and say, ‘this is what its going to look like and these are the services it’s going to offer because I didn’t know the community. I figured it’d be best for the community to tell me what to think.

An interpersonal president

“More listening, less talking” is key to paving the school’s future, he said.

Helldobler deeply values interpersonal communication.

“Of all the people I’ve talked to in my life, no one has ever said that a cell phone, a computer or a Px90 has changed their lives. It’s always been a person a mentor or an experience,” he said.

“The more we disconnect from technology and connect interpersonally, I think we really begin to create a better sense of community.”

Such change requires trust with the public. Listening to everyone is key but requires patience on their end. Many people believe in shared governance and inclusion, Helldobler said, “but those take time.”

A plan in need of patience

“I’ve been talking about some themes I think are emerging but I’m not going to lay out any plans until I think I really feel I’ve been able to talk to everybody… I’m trying to get to everybody as fast as I can, and I have to keep reminding people to be a little patient.

Real change is “methodical, careful, deliberative and it listens,” he said.

“If you study history… the change that’s happened in the world has been progressive over time. It hasn’t been mandated. That’s where real change comes.”

Real change also comes from real down time.

A genuine dog dad

Presidents – they are just like us!

Helldobler spends free time with his 70 pound Australian labradoodle, Sophie, and 7 pound, 14 year old Maltese Zeus. He is a self-proclaimed low-key “jeans and t-shirt” dude. Catch him soaking up free time at shows in New York City and cooking some good eats.

*Presidential chuckle* “I think every day I don’t have to wear ties is a victory.”