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An aerial view of Marshall University’s Campus in Huntington is shown from the HealthNet Aeromedical Services Helicopter on Friday, May 17, 2013.

The Marshall University Board of Governors has released the names of the five finalists in its search for a new president to replace Jerome Gilbert.

It’s a mix of four people with experience in academic administration and, to no one’s surprise, a retired CEO of a large, well-known company.

All five finalists will visit the Huntington and South Charleston campuses Oct. 11-19 to meet with members of the university community.

It’s too early to judge any of the candidates. They have from now until Oct. 19 to sell themselves to the Marshall community, the greater Tri-State area and West Virginia itself as the person to lead Marshall in the years to come.

The new president will need to answer many questions about Marshall’s future. Two are of particular importance.

First, how will the president lobby legislators to ensure Marshall gets its fair share (or more) of money the Legislature allocates for education? As demands on higher education have increased over the past couple of decades, state support has not kept up. Keeping the spigot open and the money flowing will be crucial over the next 10 years.

Second, and more important, how will Marshall sell itself to prospective students? The cycle of tuition increasing and student debt increasing at the same time cannot go on forever.

More than before, students and prospective students expect to see a return on their investment. Marshall has more competition than before. The community and technical college system is an alternative, and young people see the skilled trades as offering good futures, too. How will the next president position Marshall in the marketplace of post-secondary education?

Often, policy comes down to personnel. The positions of provost and athletic director are open and will need to be filled by the new president. The process for filling those slots will affect the university and this part of the state for years to come.

Marshall is the primary economic entity in the Tri-State area. With its campus at South Charleston and its new School of Aviation at Yeager Airport in Charleston, its reach extends into the Kanawha Valley also. Marshall needs a president with a vision for growth and one who can deal with competing demands from the school’s many constituencies.

The president must also be able to deal with the politics that come with leading the state’s second-largest university. So must the Board of Governors. Powerful people will exert their influence to benefit favored candidates. In the end, the decision comes down to the Board of Governors. They must put state politics and campus politics aside to choose the best person from among these five to lead Marshall to where it needs to be a decade from now.

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