Tate’s Time as the USD President

When he first arrived on campus, President James T. Harris III drew attention from students and faculty for his openness to the community and desire to hear the perspectives of everyone on campus.

One way Harris attempts to accomplish this is through switching roles with a student for a day. Harris established the annual event as university president at both Defiance College and Widener University. Now, in his second year at the University of San Diego, Harris again invited all undergraduate students to apply for the switch.

The application to be president for the day is extensive, according to Pamela Gray Payton who processes these applications that are filled out online. Her role is to filter the applications that are finished correctly and meet the requirements.

Gray Payton explained what makes an application stand out and what the selection committee is looking for.  

“We are looking at substance and the time the student took to answer these questions,” Gray Payton said. “There are clearly distinctions that I have seen in the responses. There are some that clearly are not as serious, and others are really thoughtful.”

While all questions on the application matter, there are some that stand out more than others to those who examine the applications and score them.

Questions include the following: “If you were hired as president, what would be the first issue you would address?” and “What are the characteristics of a good president?”

The board that scores these applications is a compilation of faculty and staff. They were tasked with choosing a winner from the 58 applications received last year.   

“There is a team of seven on the selection committee,” Gray Payton said. “They are representatives from Student Affairs, University Ministry, the AS President, a staff employee, and a faculty member from the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business. Each is given a rate sheet from a scale of 0 to 10. They rate questions on individual responses to each individual question. The scores are totaled. We had 5 students who were selected to present in front of the committee. Based on those presentations, the committee graded them, and, at the end of the day, we had a winner.”

[Photo Courtesy of USD News Center]

Last year’s winner was then-junior Will Tate. He switched roles with President Harris on April 23, 2016.

After being chosen, Tate was thrust into President Harris’s position. He showed up in a suit, tie, and the President’s pin on his lapel. Meanwhile, President Harris was in a USD hoodie and jeans ready to attend Tate’s classes. The roles switched after a brief meeting between Tate and Harris. Then, Harris was off toting Tate’s book and backpack.

During his busy day, Tate spoke with administrators about the USD Master Plan, reviewed the applications of prospective students on  the wait list for admission, and discussed campus culture with Vice President of Student Affairs’ Carmen Vasquez and Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Associate Provost, Inclusion and Diversity Esteban del Rio, and several others. Tate also met with and addressed San Diego City Council members.

Tate shared some of his experience as “President for a Day,” as well as how he addressed his issue about diversity on campus in his many meetings.

“In the application process, one of the areas I spent most of my time with was the issue I would solve if I were ‘President for a Day,’” Tate said. “It was an issue that was dear to my heart, and I framed it as a cause and effect. I said that students didn’t feel they were being heard by the president because they don’t feel like they are being heard by other students. And if they are not being heard by other students and the president, then they won’t feel like they are being changemakers here at USD.”

With Tate’s issue being diversity, he focused on all marginalized groups on campus. As a black man, Tate drew on his experience in a marginalized group to bring substance to his issue.

“I think faculty and students know what the problem is or problems are,” Tate said. “Students don’t feel like they are being heard because there is no action, but there are actions being taken. They are very incremental. They are not going to happen overnight, but there are certain things that can. I don’t understand a lot about the administration of the university, but that day I got to see the administrative side of things.”

Throughout his day, Tate explained that he gained more insight into President Harris’s daily tasks. Tate shared that he also gained valuable insight into the difficulty in solving the issue he first presented.

“I don’t think that I was successful in addressing the issue because there is a wide variety of experiences that I may not be able to speak to [and] I was not able to explain in detail the other marginalized groups on campus,” Tate said.

Tate wishes that students had an outlet to express the needs of their organizations holistically.

“I was using a lot of blanket statements in addressing my issue. I wish there was an opportunity where organizations can really write down what they are struggling with and have it in writing and combine those issue and address them.”

It is also important to see Tate’s peers’ reaction to the switch. As Harris attended Tate’s class, each of his classmates were given a unique opportunity to interact and discuss in-class, interdisciplinary topics with their president. Tate recalled his classmates telling him that President Harris really listened and asked great questions in class.

Tate offered a few words of advice to the new “President for a Day.”

“Whatever doors that have been opened, whatever privileges gained, or opportunities that have been given for the day, open those doors to those who do not have those same connections or opportunity,” Tate said. “If there has been a door or opportunity that had been open to you, bring some more people with you.”

The application process has closed, and a winner will be announced on April 13. The student selected will get a unique experience and have the chance to make an impact on campus on May 9.



Written by Jennifer Givens, Assistant Feature Editor