The search for the 19th president of the university is underway at Valpo. Since President Mark Heckler announced he would be stepping down from his role, people have eagerly been waiting to hear more about the potential presidential candidates to fill his shoes.
During the weeks of Feb. 16 and Feb. 24, Valpo will be hosting a series of events in order for three potential candidates to get to know Valpo and vice versa. These events were laid out in a calendar emailed out to students, faculty and staff.
On Feb. 17, the first potential candidate, Dr. Kirk Farney, held a student forum in the VUCA. At this time, over 50 students and members of faculty and staff expressed questions and concerns for Farney.
Farney serves as Vice President for Advancement, Vocation, and Alumni Engagement at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Prior to this, Farney spent 26 years in Wall Street, doing international investment banking.
“During this time, I continued to have a very strong interest in scholarship,” Farley said.
Farney continued on with graduate work and while he doesn’t regret his time on Wall Street, he felt a constant calling from God for Christian Education.
According to Farney, multiple friends of his had reached out mentioning the the position that opened up for Valpo’s president.
“Every Valpo grad I’ve ever known, I’ve been impressed by the thumbprint this place left on them,” Farney said.
While he feels Valpo is a special place based on the alumni he knows, he is here to explore this opportunity on his own and get to know more of the community.
Students started off asking Farley about how his past and current job would affect possible changes to Valpo.
Kaitlyn Steinhiser asked Farley how his involvement with Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization, affected his recruiting for presidency. Additionally, she asked how this would serve as a conflict of interest.
Farney, on the board with several other Valpo Board of Director members, claims he wasn’t recruited to seek out this opportunity but does know Valpo Board of Director members who are on the Thrivent Board.
“Conflict of interest is something that I would classify as the eye of beholder. If there is a conflict there, I’m not sure what it would be in,” Farney said. “The fact that several of us serve on the Board of Directors for a very large not-for-profit organization, being Thrivent Financial, I don’t know what conflict there would be.”
Farney adds that he supposes one conflict would be Thrivent donating large amounts of money to Valpo, but, he isn’t aware of any current conflicts.
Currently at Wheaton College, students have noticed policies in place that they feel don’t align with Valpo’s values or policies. Ben Jacobs, who is currently working to redo the visitation policy for Valpo, pointed out that Wheaton College currently has a policy arguably even more strict than Valpo’s.
“Do you believe in your policy at Wheaton and would you implement something like that here?” Jacobs asked.
Farney stated that because he is unaware of the Valpo policy, he has no current opinion, positive or negative. While he’s not uncomfortable with Wheaton’s policies, he acknowledges that Wheaton and Valpo are different institutions.
“No two institutions are alike,” Farney said. “If you asked me how I feel about Wheaton College, I think we do a really good job of liberal arts for evangelical students in an evangelical setting. I don’t think Valparaiso needs to be another Wheaton College.”
While he doesn’t have specific opinions about the policies at Valpo, he claims to not want to come in with a mindset that current policies need to be changed. Rather, he wants to know what works best in this community, particularly for Valpo students.
Several students asked Farley questions about how he plans to be inclusive to the LGBT+ community, being that it’s from their knowledge that Wheaton is more conservation in this topic.
“We do have a very active LGBTQ community on campus and we activily embrace those identities here, or we seek to at least as a student body,” Isis Zaki said. “Can you speak to how you would approach interacting with those students, being a representative of those students being that your background includes a college where those students don’t necessarily feel comfortable?”
Farney, who said he would’ve been stunned if this question didn’t come up giving his affiliation with Wheaton College, welcomes the question.
“Wheaton College, as far as LGBT issues, has maintained a historical sexual position that’s historically aligned with sexual ethics the institution is interpreted scripture to say,” Farney said. “However, it is absolutely imperative as C hristians that we make everyone feel welcomed.”
Farney admits that not everyone on their campus has a universal, wonderful experience, but, there are students of the LGBT+ community who have had positive experiences.
“Again, I don’t come here with the idea that the policies of Wheaton College should be forced upon Valpo and its constituents,” Farney said. “This is a different place.”
Another student asked Farney for his opinion on Valpo hosting drag shows, having the Alliance club on campus, allowing for LGBT+ members to have a sense of community at a Lutheran college.
“I can’t give you a prescribed answer to specific events or anything like that without knowing what the situation is more thoroughly,” Farney said. Admitting to being redundant, Farley feels that he doesn’t yet have an opinion.
“But again, I’m not coming in with an agenda that I’m going to nail this stuff to the wall, I would just want to understand more thoroughly before I could express an opinion,” he continued.
One student felt upset by Farney's answers to some questions regarding the LGBT+ community, claiming the answers left them feeling unsafe in his ability to protect the community. Farley apologizes for being vague but is asked again to answer a clarification question regarding being an LGBT+ ally.
“Just a quick answer; yes or no, would you put that gay flag sticker on your door,” the student asked.
“If you’re saying ‘would my office be a safe zone,’ yes, I don’t know about stickers,” Farney said.
The topic of sustainability was also brought to Farney's attention. He feels that most of higher ed is playing catch up when it comes to being sustainable.
“While I don’t know what’s been done here yet, I’m very supportive of things that are being done in the area,” Farney said.