President Biff Williams’ honeymoon stage at Dixie State University is over.
Already having dealt with student protests and lawsuits, Williams said he is starting to be accustomed to the stress and importance of the position. He said his goal since the beginning was to make DSU the best it could be.
Williams hoped to initiate a strategic plan for the future of DSU, increase enrollment, maximize student success and encourage community engagement when he was hired as DSU’s 18th president last summer.
Williams said the most important thing he has learned to do as president is listen to the input of students and faculty members.
“My door is always open,” Williams said. “I am very devoted to hearing the student voice and understanding what they need and what they want.”
Williams did a “listening tour” during the beginning of the fall semester, trying to speak with as many DSU students as possible. Some students appreciate Williams’ openness.
Matt Devore, a junior integrated studies major from Mesquite, Nevada, and student body president elect, said Williams is more than willing to talk to anybody.
“He’s approachable,” Devore said. “You can talk to him about anything or ask him anything.”
Not everyone is happy with Williams, though.
Twelve students, upset over Williams firing a faculty member in the theater department, attempted to approach Williams in protest March 16 at his office.
In a March interview, Dean of Students Del Beatty said Williams could have easily refused to hear from them because the students were not truthful about the reasons of the appointment when they scheduled it with his secretary.
“Their intent was not to talk and listen — it was to protest,” Beatty said. “But [Williams] sat down with them and heard from them regardless.”
JaNay Maxwell, a senior theater major from St. George, was one of the protestors and said Williams lied to them and did little to acknowledge their concerns.
Williams said he had met with the faculty member three times before firing him, which Maxwell said was false. Williams corrected himself after a Future of Dixie forum on March 17 and said he never met with the faculty member, but administrators had.
“We also asked if we could count on [Williams] to help rebuild our department that is falling apart,” Maxwell said. “He said he would. When we asked how, he said they have opened up two new positions. He wants to put a Band-Aid over an infectious wound.”
Williams said he appreciated how passionate the students were about their professor.
“Sometimes as a university president, I have to make some tough calls for the good of the university as a whole,” Williams said. “When I was hired, I pledged to be accountable for all my decisions.”
When other students filed a lawsuit against DSU for restricting free speech in March, Williams said he never heard from the students before they pursued legal action.
“The first I heard of [the lawsuit] was in the newspaper,” Williams said. “If the students had come to me and voiced their concerns to me, I would have known it was a problem to possibly look into.”
Williams said some of the highlights of his first year as president as being the “tremendous student support” for the input on DSU’s strategic plan, moving forward with construction plans for a new health sciences building, dedicating the light post in front of the Gardner Center in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19, and hearing the success stories of DSU alumni.
Williams said he hopes to continue to listen to student and faculty input and to make DSU a “target university” for people searching for universities to attend in the months and years to come.
Williams said he is going to start focusing on fundraising, increasing student housing on campus and retaining more students at DSU during the fall 2015 semester.