An Interview with ESU’s New Interim President Kenneth Long

Photo Credit/ Greg Knowlden, ESU University Relations

Natalie Irula

Editor-in-Chief

The new Interim President, Kenneth Long, has a goal to empower students to rise to their greatest potential, especially during this online-semester.

Following the retirement of former President Marcia Welsh, Long was appointed by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors. 

Previously, Long had served as our Vice President of Administration and Finance since 2013. Before that, he worked in administration at Kutztown University as well as the University of Toledo and Devry University.

Long has a Bachelor of Arts degree in math and political science from Drew University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Monmouth University.

“It is my intention, as an institution, to give students an opportunity to fulfill their dreams,” said Long regarding his goals in his new position.

“I know it’s kind of cliché to say it’s all about the students, but it really is about what students want to accomplish. How do we provide them with the conduit to fulfill those goals and dreams?” 

The Interim President places a strong emphasis on students and community.

“I think that’s what gets me excited, to see that success when I run into a student and I see that they are doing what they want to do,” Long said.

Driven by his experience working with students from many different backgrounds, Long’s university administration jobs shaped him and his perspective on students. 

“It’s when you see students that have graduated five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, doing something that they really love,” said Long.

One particular Devry graduate stuck with him as he told a brief anecdote of a student he helped more than he knew at the time. 

Long said, “Early years at Devry, I helped this student as Assistant Director of the Student Council Bursar’s Office. Three years later, on that commencement, a mom comes up to me and she says, ‘thank you.”

This student’s mother explained that his help in getting her son through college made all the difference. Living in Newark, N.J., she had already lost one son and was afraid that if this one didn’t go to school, he would end up in a gang or involved in violence. 

“So it’s stories like that that really connect you, “said Long. “The little things that you may do in higher education can make a big difference. You can change someone’s life.”

With regards to the financial strain on the ESU community, administration, students, families and faculty and staff alike, Long stated, “I put myself back into the position of students. My dad died when I was eight. So, my mother raised five of us. That’s what I see when I see our students.”

“They don’t want a handout. They don’t want something given to them. They earn what they get, but they want to also have a chance to get it. They don’t want to be going into a situation where we’re constantly holding them down.”

Interim President Long is focused on maintaining a financial balance. 

“When I go into looking at making a change on something I say, is it something we can do and how does it impact the student? Is that impacting the quality of education we provide? So we may say we’re going to increase by $5, $10, $20, but the second question before we act is: What is it going to do for the students?”

He continued by explaining that the administration assesses the difference that amount of money is going to make on students’ education.

“The best thing I can do is try to make sure we keep it affordable and by living the same life that student is living,” said Long. 

“And then again, we have some students that could have boarded and some students that can’t afford it. But we have to look at the whole and see how we can best accomplish this and keep ESU as affordable as possible, while at the same time making sure it’s safe.”

On the decision to go completely virtual for this semester, Long insisted that although it is a big financial burden on the school, the safety of students is the top priority.

“I could not live with myself if a student, faculty or staff contracted anything when I knew we could’ve done something different,” Long said. “If we do it for financial reasons, then that’s for the wrong reason.”

Long also expanded on the general feeling of camaraderie across the ESU community.

“If you’re Black, white, Asian, if you’re Hispanic, if you’re gay, if you are male or female, that doesn’t matter,” Long says about ESU’s diverse community. 

“Anyone can feel like they fit in regardless of your beliefs, your background. I think you can fit in here and I worked for other institutions and not one of them, I would say, that I felt a sense of belonging. I had a sense of responsibility, but not a sense of belonging.”

Continuing on the topic of diversity among students, especially as a professional Black man himself, Long said, “Diversity, for me, comes from a standpoint where we value each other and we value each other’s differences as much as we value each other’s similarities and if we can embrace those differences, that’s what makes us.”

His approach to students is very much hands-on. He wants to really hear and listen to what students have to say and it is unfortunate that the coronavirus has gotten in the way.

“I can hear from the administration, I can hear from the faculty, which are all good. But it really doesn’t get to the heart of what we need to do, which is to hear what the students want, what the students need,” Long said.

Currently, the administration is looking for ideas in which they can reach out to students outside of Zoom sessions and emails. 

Email Natalie at:

nirula@live.esu.edu

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