Q&A with Paino: Resignation and Reflections

After Truman State President Troy Paino announced his resignation Monday in a campus-wide email, representatives from Truman Media Network met with Paino to get a sense of what prompted his decision to accept a position at University of Mary Washington.

JOHANNA BURNS: Students were notified Monday, as well faculty — and the Board was notified Sunday. Could you tell us about the steps of who knew what and when?

TROY PAINO: You pretty much summarized it right there. Other than a small circle of individuals who are close to me, like my family, no one really knew about this. I did inform those very, very close to me here on campus, including the provost and my direct reports here in my office at the end of last week. And then I notified the Board over the weekend — on Sunday afternoon to be exact — and then, of course, the campus and the world on Monday morning. So it was really not too many people outside of a very small circle of individuals, like my wife and my parents and my sister. My brother-in-law and his family knew about it.

BURNS: What prompted you to make the announcement this weekend?

PAINO: It was the decision. I didn’t make the decision until last week. I just didn’t make the decision  it was really the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my life, so I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Really, until last week I didn’t know what I was going to do, and so I started informing people. Certainly I felt I owed it to the Board to make them aware first.

BURNS: Going off of that last question, and knowing last semester you renewed your contract until 2019, could you walk us through the timeline of finding out about the position, being offered the position and when you made the decision?

PAINO: I wasn’t on the job market. I wasn’t looking for a job and I think anyone who’s close to me — including those who were involved in this search from Mary Washington — would tell you that I was not out looking for the job. It was really an opportunity that I became aware of last fall and initially I decided it was a good opportunity for personal reasons and for professional reasons, but it was not an opportunity I was going to pursue because I didn’t think the timing was right.

The reason it was a unique opportunity for me was because it was really — as I mentioned in my email — a convergence of the personal and the professional. There are very few schools in the country that I see myself leading and working at. I’m very passionate about public liberal arts universities — about the mission of public liberal arts schools. I’m very involved in COPLAC the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges  and I really don’t want to work in another sector. That’s the sector of higher education I feel passionate about. I feel like it’s the sector where my values align with the values of the institution.

Kelly, my wife, and I have often talked about our future and at sometime in our life wanting to be closer to family. The only drawback at Truman  we love everything about Truman, we love it’s mission, we love the school, we [love] the students, faculty, the community in which we live  the only drawback is that it’s not very close to family for us. For professional reasons, for the last quarter of a century, [I] have not been able to be very close to family.

Thinking about our future and the next stage in life, we had always hoped that at sometime, when the timing was right, we’d be able to get closer to family. When we stepped back and thought about it, Mary Washington was probably about the only school out there that had that convergence for us  that was a type of school with a mission like Truman that brought us close to family in a geographic location where we could see ourselves putting roots down for the long haul. It was after about a month of reflection that we started wondering whether or not it was impossible to line up timing with opportunity. And so it wasn’t until November that we decided to do some initial exploration of the opportunity.

BURNS: So you’ve been in contact with them since early November?

PAINO: I would say early November. It was probably — when I first heard about the job opportunity from a search consultant — that was probably around Oct. 1, and I didn’t reach back out and make contact with them until early November.

BURNS: Was it the consultant who approached you or the University?

PAINO: My initial conversations — the initial contact to me — was from the search consultant and then my initial conversation with them was with the search consultant in early November. Really all my conversations early on — and there weren’t many — was with the search consultant and not anyone from the University.

BURNS: Following that question, have you been to University of Mary Washington?

PAINO: I have. Their hybrid approach — they clearly wanted to attract potentially people who were sitting presidents for this position, who had that experience [and were] certainly passionate about a public liberal arts mission of the institution. I think what a lot of universities are finding is that in order to even have conversations — early exploratory conversations like I was having largely in November and December — they have to protect someone’s confidentiality because obviously, as I told them from the beginning, I’m not looking for work.

I love my job at Truman and this is not me looking or fleeing any situation. I have a good situation, I have a supportive board [and a] wonderful school that I very much like. This is really more about personal things in terms of geography and where I might be able to live long term close to family.

And so, in order for me to have those conversations they knew that they had to protect my confidentiality. So really those were early conversations with search consultant, but then later with what they called the Presidential Search Advisory Committee  which was really this representative group  it was all done under the protection of confidentiality where they had signed confidentiality agreements that would allow me an opportunity to talk to them. At any point in time, I made it clear that if I decided I wanted to pull out of these conversations, I could do so without any concern about it becoming public.

BURNS: You told us about your core values. Is there anything about Mary Washington that really drew you besides being close to family and that they’re a liberal arts university? Are there programs or initiatives they’ve started?

PAINO: If you look at their program mix, it’s not unlike Truman. It’s very similar. It’s a little smaller institution. It’s about 4,100 students. I like that size of school, kind of the sweet spot for me is 4 to 6,000 students because I like the personal nature of a university that size. It had many of the attributes that I find appealing about Truman. Certainly size, faculty student contact, that ratio is very similar to Truman. Program mix is largely based in the arts and sciences with some select professional programs.

Certainly all of that has great appeal to me, and so I would say that strong sense of community that I really desire was present there. Once again going back to geography, not just family, but another appeal for me is that it is stationed right between Washington D.C.  the nation’s capitol  and Richmond  the state capitol. That has appeal from a policy perspective where it sort of brings me closer to the seat of power, if you will, and an opportunity once again for me to a public advocate for this public liberal arts mission.

I feel so passionate about it, I feel it deserves public support, I feel it’s such an important foundation to our democracy to have liberally educated citizens. This offers me an opportunity to get a little closer to Washington D.C. but also sort of the breadbasket of public education with being in a state with schools like William and Mary, University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and even Mary Washington its history is linked to University of Virginia.

I think that history — where it is close to the breadbasket of the origins of public higher education in this country, but also being close to the nation’s capitol and the state’s capitol — allows me an opportunity to be close to those who are making critically important decisions about the future of higher education in this country.

BURNS: During this past year you’ve implemented a lot of programs and initiatives. What do you see happening with all of those programs once you leave?

PAINO: I think that all of those things should and would move forward. If you saw the email I sent last week after my all university address, there’s not a thing on that list that is going to be dependent upon me being here. Many of them will be coming out of the academic side of the university and Provost Thomas will be very involved in appointing committees and task forces and work groups to continue the work of those Blueprint Teams to continue that vision of moving forward.

Where I think I can be of help in the interim is really working with the provost to create that elevator pitch in terms of what that vision is moving forward. I would like to think it would also be helpful to the board as they think about who might be the next president — that these are the things we are working on, this is the direction we’re going, this is what we think we have to do in order to continue to be viable into the future and we would like to bring a president in who can help this forward momentum.

In terms of curricular reform, I think where we now see it is it’s going to be in the hands of the faculty. Curriculum — especially when it comes to the core curriculum and the liberal studies program — is ultimately a faculty decision and will be decided around the faculty governance table. Right now it’s up to getting faculty to write a bill to be introduced to the undergraduate council to begin considering a new vision for the core curriculum and how that fits with the vision of the university. It’s really in their hands and they’re going to have to take ownership of it.

BURNS: Given your experience first as provost and then as president, how do you intend to leave Truman?

PAINO: My hope, of course, is that with any president you’re leaving it stronger than how you found it. I believe we have made great strides and I am confident that we are in a better place than 2008 when I arrived, and even 2010 when I became president. Of course, all of that will be for each individual to judge and make their own conclusion as to whether or not they agree with me.

When I got here in 2008 and when I was appointed president in the winter of 2010, there was a lot of discord on campus. There was a lot of — I would say a lack of trust between faculty and administration to a certain degree. The university was having a hard time finding its footing and gaining traction on how to move forward in light of some of the challenges we were facing  state budget cuts and other challenges. I think now, eight years down the road, we’re in a far better place and I think the work of the Blueprint Teams is an example of that. I would like to think we are now in a place where we have the ability to work collaboratively, where people have greater trust in one another moving forward and maybe have a clearer framework or vision on how to move forward.

BURNS: In your term as president what would you classify as some of the most important issues that you had to work with or deal with?

PAINO: I think the biggest challenge for Truman now and as it moves forward is the continued adaptation of our mission and operations to this very different environment we find ourselves in in 2016. This university went through an amazing transformation in the 1980s when the state changed its mission from a regional comprehensive university to the state’s public liberal arts and sciences university. We’re now over 30 years removed from that and the world has changed a lot in those 30 years. The level of state support that we receive has declined.

So now, what has happened to us and other public universities is that we’re much more market-driven, and so we’ve become, in a sense, more privatized. It’s pushed us into the same marketplace as private institutions, so that means that we are in a much more competitive environment in higher education. I think adapting our mission and how we support that mission from that public model to a more hybrid public/private model is going to continue to be the challenge that we have to grapple with.

The other main source of revenue to support our mission is tuition and fees. An institution that prides itself on affordability and access and social uplift always needs to be mindful of that cost to students and make sure that cost is not overly burdensome to students. But where do we make up the loss that we’ve experienced on the state appropriations side if it’s not on the tuition and fees side?

The other additional challenge that Truman has is that we work in a state that highly regulates our ability to raise tuition and fees. Our ability to raise tuition and fees has been very limited these last several years, since I’ve been president, so we have to look for other ways to make it work, to generate enough revenue to support what it is we do here. The fact that Truman is unique in a public environment where students come here and work closely with full professors … is very unique. How do you preserve that uniqueness in an era and a context where we’re not getting revenue from the state to support it?

I think that is going to be an ongoing challenge and is really is what the basis for work that the Blueprint Teams were doing. How do you create additional revenue streams to support our mission without overly burdening our students, but also never expecting that the state is going to return to this level of support that we received in the 80s and 90s? That, I think, is going to continue to be the ongoing challenge of Truman.

Some people might wrongly think that my departure is somehow getting away from some of these challenges. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are challenges at every institution, and there are challenges waiting for me at Mary Washington.

More information about President Paino’s resignation will be available Thursday, both in the Index and on TMN TV on channel 36 at 5:30 pm.