Eastern Michigan University welcomed new President James Smith for his first official day on the job Friday.
As Smith heads into his first week leading the school, he says he’s eager to meet more faculty and staff before the fall semester begins. “It’s hard to meet a lot of faculty in the summer because many of them are not resident on campus, but I certainly look forward to that opportunity as August rolls around," he says. "Our core mission is all about teaching and learning, and [I] certainly want to have that dialogue with faculty about things that they see for us to be stronger in that teaching and learning environment.”
Smith says the recent staff layoffs at EMU are unfortunate, but necessary for the school.
"I would have loved to have not been in that situation, but I understand we have to get our budget balanced and we have to move forward with 2017 with the best position we can financially. “
Howard Bunsis represents the American Association of University Professors, a faculty union at EMU. He hopes that Smith will meet with union members before classes begin in August to discuss what has recently become another source of contention at the school: how much EMU spends to remain a Division One football team.
“What we really want to see specifically is [to] make sure that he [Smith] emphasizes education as a priority. What we would like is to make sure this new President considers [is] leaving Division One football so that more resources can be put into the core mission. We hope he listens to reason and we hope he considers it, because we believe it is essential for our students to succeed.
Smith says he’s willing to listen to critics of EMU’s athletic spending, but it’s unlikely the school will step down as a Division One football program.
"I think leaving the Mid-American Conference would be very difficult, if not tragic for a school like Eastern. Mostly we’ll look at new revenue sources, how we strengthen those revenue sources, and what we can do in some creative ways,"