Sabah Randhawa, provost at Oregon State University, has been named the sole candidate for the presidency of Western Washington University.
Sabah Randhawa, the provost of Oregon State University, was chosen unanimously Wednesday as the sole candidate for the presidency of Western Washington University.
Randhawa, 62, an engineer by training and an alumnus of OSU, was one of four finalists.
No other finalists were nominated by WWU’s trustees, and none of their names were released.
Randhawa’s nomination came after a closed-door executive session of the board of trustees in Bellingham on Wednesday morning. He is expected to visit Western’s campus next week, and the trustees tentatively plan to vote on whether to hire him after that visit.
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Randhawa has been provost at OSU since 2005, and also holds the title of executive vice president.
In recent years, he has been a candidate for a number of other university executive positions.
In 2012, he was a candidate for president of the University of Vermont, but was persuaded by OSU to stay because it was in the middle of a capital campaign, he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
More recently, he was courted by the University of Reno-Nevada, Southern Illinois University and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Randhawa said none of those posts seemed like the right fit.
A few weeks ago during winter finals, he and his wife, Uzma Ahmad, drove up to Bellingham and walked around incognito, talking to students to find out what they liked about their university and trying to get a feel for the community. ”My wife and I were very impressed,” he said.
Trustee Sue Sharpe, who headed the search committee, said Randhawa rose to the top in a pool of highly qualified candidates. She praised him for his work attracting and retaining students and faculty of color at OSU, and said issues of diversity and inclusion have been “in the forefront” during his career.
Last year, Western was roiled by a hate-speech incident in which the student-body president, Belina Seare, who is African American, was threatened on social media.
A Western student was arrested and charged with a hate crime, and a trial is set for later this spring.
Randhawa “is very personally and professionally committed to diversity; he has been instrumental in the development of a number of ethnic centers on campus,” said trustee Chase Franklin, who also praised Randhawa for being a strategic thinker and for being personally engaging.
To address race on a college campus, Randhawa said, it is important to create what he called a “safe space” so students and faculty “have an opportunity to share their fears and perspectives.” He said universities must also work harder to eliminate the achievement gap between rich and poor students so that all have an equal chance of completing a college education.
Randhawa has been credited with increasing the number of international students who attend OSU from 904 students in 2006 to 3,328 in 2015. International students now make up 11 percent of campus enrollment. OSU has also expanded study-abroad programs for its students, he said.
“If you’re going to create a culture where our own students are going to work in an international society and economy, we need to stimulate that international environment at our institutions,” he said. International students also helped bring diversity to OSU’s enrollment, he said.
Western has not historically been a draw for international students, but in 2014, President Bruce Shepard and six staff members took a seven-day tour through inland China and Mongolia as part of an effort to create partnerships and collaborations with academic institutions in Asia.
WWU student trustee Seth Brickey said Randhawa told Western he was looking for a new job because he’s finished what he started at OSU. “He engages in efforts he sees through to the end, and that’s what Western needs,” Brickey said.
Trustee Betti Fujikado said that of the candidates, Randhawa seemed to have done the most research on Western. “He really listened to the questions asked by all of us,” she said, an indication to her that he was a “thoughtful, active listener.”
Randhawa received his chemical-engineering degree at the University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan in 1976. He moved to Oregon in 1978 to pursue a master’s in industrial engineering at OSU, then received a doctorate in industrial engineering at Arizona State University.
Shepard, the current president, is retiring this summer.
The trustees’ decision marks the second time in two weeks that a governing board of a state university named a sole finalist to a president’s post after a closed-door discussion, and without naming the other finalists.
Last week, Washington State University voted on three finalists without naming them. After the unanimous vote and a closed-door negotiation, regents announced that “candidate C,” their choice, was Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz. Some experts believe that vote violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
Last year, University of Washington regents chose interim president Ana Mari Cauce to be the school’s permanent president after a secret search, and without naming other finalists.
A Seattle Times investigation showed that the regents and other key officials communicated as if they knew Cauce would be named UW president days before the board publicly voted to appoint her.
The records obtained by The Times bolstered suspicions by open-government advocates that the regents had violated the state’s open-meetings law.