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CSU presidential candidate pitches plan to creatively solve issues

An interesting nugget buried in Aldemaro "Al" Romero Jr.'s 60-page resume is that he writes a weekly syndicated column about higher education.

So after he spoke to about two dozen folks Wednesday in the Columbus State University Riverside Theatre Complex, the Ledger-Enquirer asked him what the headline should be.

"CSU president candidate promises creative approach to solve issues," he said.

Romero certainly delivered a creative multimedia presentation. It was the second of two open forums for the public to meet, hear and question the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Southern Illinois University, where he now is a biology professor after losing his five-year deanship Dec. 31 in a reorganization.

"It had to do with big budget cuts and also a new president, new chancellor and new provost," he said. "My plan was to retire there, but sometimes life takes you in ways you don't expect."

An estimated crowd of 100 attended Wednesday's first forum, in CSU's Center for Commerce and Technology.

Romero has published more than 800 pieces, including more than 20 books and monographs, as well as hundreds of articles. In addition to his column, he hosts a weekly radio show and has a substantial Internet presence, such as Wikipedia and Facebook pages, a website, YouTube channel and Twitter account.

No wonder he used a high-tech way to share what he learned about CSU online. He composed a word map that has "student" as the largest word.

"This is a student-centered institution," he said, "and that's what really attracts me. Sometimes we forget our work is to serve the students."

During the public question period of the forum, Romero was asked to list the three biggest challenges the next CSU president will face. He mentioned financial stability, student success and elevating the profile of the institution.

"If there's no financial stability, anything else you try to do is going to crumble," he said. "That means not only to advocate before the state why they should keep supporting the institution, but also to be even more creative to attract other sources of funding."

On student success, he said, "Essentially, it's the issue of retention. It's a moral obligation to do a better job."

On elevating CSU's profile, he said, "You guys are much better than it shows on the Internet. You need to be less shy about your accomplishments. When I was touring the facilities yesterday, I was really impressed, really impressed. Why don't you make a bigger deal out of this? Everybody wants to be with a winner. You need to show that you are a winner."

Another concern Romero said he heard and read about deals with "some issues you've had regarding a sense of community among the students. Some say it's an issue because of the two campuses, geographically distant, now that you are becoming more of a residential campus with the new dorms that you are building"

Romero suggested conducting focus groups with students to better understand the problem.

"I think some of the issues that you are facing are similar issues you'll find in many state institutions and with which I have dealt with in the past," he said. "I have my own bias. Although I am a biologist by training, the arts, I have something in my DNA about that, and I learned about the facilities that you built here in downtown, but I was really surprised by the quality of the facilities that you have when I was given a tour yesterday. If anything, you need to do a better job in promoting what you have, and I'm very good at that sort of thing."

Romero, 63, was born in Venezuela, where his father was a symphony conductor. As a 4-year-old, Romero was a media sensation when he conducted an orchestra.

"According to the press," he said, "I was able to read music before words. I don't think that was true, but anyway it made a good story."

Two years later, in 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite - and that launched Romero's interest in science.

"Santa brought me a telescope," he said.

Then he asked his father how he could become an astronaut. The answer: "You must be Russian or American."

But his scientific curiosity wasn't blocked, only diverted. He saw "The Silent World," explorer Jacques Cousteau's documentary about marine life, and he was hooked.

Romero earned his bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Barcelona, Spain, in 1978, and his doctorate in biology from the University of Miami, Fla., in 1984. His work history includes:

Country program director, The Nature Conservancy, Washington, D.C., 1985-86.

Executive director and CEO, BIOMA, The Venezuela Foundation for the Conservation of Biodiversity, Caracas, Venezuela, 1986-94.

Adjunct associate professor of biology, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela, 1987-94.

Adjunct research associate professor, University of Miami, Fla., 1994-96.

Instructor, Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, Fla., 1994-96.

Assistant professor of biology, Florida Atlantic University, Davie, Fla., 1996-98.

Director and associate professor, Environmental Studies Program, Macalaster College, St. Paul, Minn, 1998-2003.

Chairman and professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, Ark., 2003-09.

Romero is the second of the five remaining candidates to visit. The first was Randy Hanna, who was chancellor of the Florida College System, formerly known as the Florida Community College System, from 2011 through Dec. 31, when he resigned to pursue a university presidency while also returning to the Tallahassee, Fla., law firm Bryant Miller Olive, where worked for 27 years.

Here is the visitation schedule for the other candidates:

March 8-10: Chris Markwood, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas.

March 10-12: Carl Stockton, provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Texas.

March 15-17: Jose-Marie Griffiths, vice president for academic affairs, Bryant University, Smithfield, R.I.

Each visit includes two forums open to the public: at 2 p.m. in the CSU Center for Commerce and Technology on main campus; at 3:30 p.m. in the Riverside Theatre Complex on the RiverPark Campus. The rest of the forum dates are March 9, 11 and 16.

Out of 60 applicants, the 17-member search and screening committee chose 11 to interview. Ten were interviewed last month in Atlanta, and five made the cut.

After the candidates visit CSU, the committee will recommend 3-5, without ranking them, to the University System Board of Regents. The Special Regents' Search Committee will recommend an unspecified number of finalists to chancellor Hank Huckaby, who will recommend his top choice to the full board.

Tim Mescon, who announced his departure six months ago, was CSU president for six years when he retired Dec. 31 to move to Amsterdam and become senior vice president and chief officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International.

Mescon is the fourth president in the 57-year history of CSU, which began as Columbus College. Thomas Whitley served from 1958-79, Francis Brooke from 1980-87 and Frank Brown from 1988-2008.

Tom Hackett, the CSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been serving as interim president.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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