100 Days: Taylor reflects on presidency

Sitting on the brand new couch in his brand new presidential office, Dr. Keith Taylor references the portraits hanging on the wall outside, none of which bear his name or face – a fact that he’s completely OK with as his portrait will come in only when he’s on his way out.

Separating the dates below the portraits are a dash which, according to Taylor, represents an individual’s life and reminds him of the limited time he has as a president and as a person.

“It’s about the dash,” said Taylor, who will be inaugurated as Gannon University’s seventh president Friday. “It’s about the things you did and didn’t do and what your legacy will be.”

As for his legacy, Taylor has been busy trying to build a positive one while getting his feet wet in the presidential waters.

The 47-year-old father of four had to navigate his own transition from provost and prepare Gannon for a new president for the first time in nine years.

“It’s been exciting,” he said. “It’s been a transition, of course, from provost to president but with all transition, all change, there comes some excitement. It is what I thought it would be and maybe even a little better in some ways.”

Taylor, who served as provost and vice president for academic affairs from 2005 until he became president, said the he’s knowledge is has acquired over the past six years has made his change in offices nearly worry free. Before that, Taylor spent 17 years at Daeman College in different administrative roles.

“I have a little more ability to make the big things happen,” he said. “When you’re the president you have a little more control to decide which things will happen and when they’ll happen.”

“The last six years have been a great learning experience and a great way to prepare for the presidency.”

And according to Taylor, the preparation has made progress in the early months easier, especially for his four-point plan.

In his introduction as the new president in May, Taylor outlined four aspects of the university – community service, teaching excellence, diversity and student leadership – as areas that he thought should be the focus of Gannon’s next decisions.

Taylor, who took over officially on July 1, cites the first endowment of a university professor, as well as mandatory service for freshmen as tangible examples on campus of his four-point plan.

These steps, although progress, are merely baby steps for a man who admits he’s never been any good at thinking small.

Enter Erie-GAINS. Erie-GAINS, which stands for Erie-Gannon Alliances to Improve Neighborhood Sustainability, an initiative that Taylor fathered as provost, is committed to helping urban development in areas of downtown Erie surrounding campus.

“I think Erie-GAINS is huge,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we’re doing and what can we mean to our community.”

Aside from organizing summer camps, partnering with Hamot to fight childhood obesity and aiding the Erie Police, Erie-GAINS, which focuses on the area from 11th Street to the Bayfront Connector, also established a scholarship for high school students after receiving a portion of a $1 million donation Gannon was given last year.

“I think it’s going to have a major impact on the university from the perspectives of being students, faculty and staff and what it means to be a good citizen of Erie,” Taylor said.

But his efforts haven’t ended with the city limits. Over the past five weeks, Taylor has touched down in the major cities east of Mississippi River – Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York – to do a variety of tasks from meeting with potential donors to holding discussions with the Council of Independent Colleges.

While in the nation’s capital, Taylor attended a summit that focused on cooperation between Indian and American colleges, a cause that he believes is vital to his four-point plan and the future of collegiate education.

“I’m pretty passionate about diversity and mutual understanding,” Taylor said. “The world is getting smaller and any college graduate that is 100 percent confident that they’ll never have to work outside the U.S. or interact with people from other countries is missing the boat.”

After spending years exploring education options for Gannon students in places like China, Australia, Ireland, India, Jordan and Thailand, Taylor said that increased diversity and improved foreign relations will hopefully give students a leg up on the competition.

“I don’t want Gannon graduates to come out and think ‘we have to deal with multiculturalism,’” he said. “I want them to have an interest in and be passionate about multiculturalism.”

But, after the flights to different cities and daily meetings, there are only so many hours left in the day. It’s an issue that leaves Taylor wishing he had more time to spend out on Gannon’s campus.

“I’d like to get out more across campus to spend time and find ways to interact with the faculty, staff and students,” he said.

To build in time, Taylor has started “Lunch with the President” – similar to his past “Lunch with the Provost”  – and will take a spring break trip to either Haiti or El Salvador so he can get to better know some students.

But no matter good or bad, he doesn’t want people judging him on what he’s done from the Fourth of July to Halloween – his dash is much longer than that. “The first 100 days went well,” Taylor said. “Now I’m looking forward to the next 1,000 days.”

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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