Student and president swap places, but just for one day

By Farah Bassyouni Feb 28, 2023

Liam Killian in Holmes Hall with department representative

Credit: IWU Photographer Adam Day

President Nugent among students in Killian’s class

Credit: IWU Photographer Adam Day

On Monday, February 20, Illinois Wesleyan President Georgia Nugent switched places with sophomore Liam Killian. “President for a Day” is a tradition at IWU that used to take place before the pandemic, and has returned this year. The day allowed Killian to interact with university leadership and hold meetings while President Nugent participated in his classes and extracurricular activities. 

Having the chance to hang out with students was really the highlight of the day,” Nugent said. “I really loved having lunch with some of Liam’s roommates, going to the Ethics Bowl prep  and brainstorming at the Philosophy Club table in Tommy’s.” 

Killian’s friends and classmates were also able to interact with President Nugent as a participating student, especially during Philosophy Club where they chose the topic of the week; the ethics of cannibalism. 

“I was delighted that the officers of the RSO did not err on the side of caution for President Nugent’s visit. A free-flowing discussion of the ethics of eating humans followed at Tommy’s and the President gamely participated,” Philosophy Professor Andy Engen said. 

For many students, it was their first time interacting with President Nugent.

She was very candid about her opinions and seemed very engaged with conversation happening around her,” sophomore MJ Soria said. 

Among other things, President Nugent also took a quiz in place of Killian during his humanities class, “World of Ideas”.

“It was really cool. It definitely made her feel like a bigger part of the community at IWU. You hear all the time about the people running the administration, but never really get to see them,” sophomore Hannah Kocar said. 

Killian’s day looked a little different. He talked on the phone with the chair of the board of trustees, Timothy Szerlong, and discussed student life on campus. He also attended a Zoom meeting with IWU alumni and State Assembly Representative Sharon Chung. 

“I much better understand the different departments that work together to make what is essentially the executive branch of IWU,” Killian said. “I think that this exercise provides the potential for the administration and students to un-alienate themselves from each other.” 

Killian met with representatives from administrative offices in Holmes Hall, such as the Dean of Students, Business Office, Financial Aid and Registrar. He inquired about budgeting and the affordability of college,  as well as how the university ought to respond to issues such as school shootings and natural disasters. 

“The significance of this is that it puts a student in direct contact with those in the administration who are responsible for the decisions on campus, allowing a student to testify about what the student body feels,” Killian said. 

And vice versa, “President Nugent picked up on the differences of the current student body as opposed to students of the past,” Killian said. “Our campus has greatly been affected by the Covid years even now as we are in-person and most university regulations are being lifted.” 

It’s an effort to break down barriers and, ideally, dispel some myths about the administration,” Nugent said. 

Some students feel they should know even more about what goes on behind the scenes. 

“I would really love it if administration was more understanding of the student opinions about our academics,” Soria said. “I think that students need to understand what is going on in the administration to trust their decisions.” 

“We put a lot into this school – financially, physically, emotionally, in every way we involve ourselves. I think it’s important for students to be able to gain glimpses into the workings of the university so that a stronger bond and trust can be formed,” Kocar said.  

“Especially in the wake of budget cuts that have drained a lot of the liberal arts from our ‘liberal arts college,’ knowing the process behind these decisions may help students advocate for different decisions to be made,” sophomore Lily Sakalys said. 

Alumni Jonas Maes said the gap isn’t necessarily between students and President Nugent, but rather with the Board of Trustees and Deans. 

“They have a fair bit clearer control of university policy and decision making,” he said. 

Maes, a philosophy major, said that in many departments at this university, not just in the humanities but also in some of the social and physical sciences, there is a sense among students that the institution is bleeding talent and doing very little to retain or replace it. 

“If I were to guess, President Nugent probably knows that students feel this way, but I’m not sure Timothy Szerlong, for example, does,” he said. 

After spending a day as a student, President Nugent described a university as a small town. There are many things that support the students that are invisible, such as alumni and donor relations, community and government relations, safety and security, grants for research, the complexities of student enrollment, conference services and many channels of communications.

“I think to some extent a disconnect is inevitable: the roles, the ages, the experiences of administrators and students are dramatically different,” Nugent said. “But I think the most important thing is to understand that we all are committed to the best for the university and the best experience for the students.”

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