Presidential Candidates Visit Campus


AIC Marketing

Presidential candidates Beth Mauke (left), Jim Burkee (center), and HUbert Benitez (right) visited campus during the first two weeks of the semester to meet with students, faculty, and staff.

Justin Murray, Staff Writer

Vince Maniaci, who has been the president of American International College for nearly seventeen years, will be retiring at the end of the academic year. The Board of Trustees announced that President Maniaci would be taking medical leave for the remainder of the semester, leaving Chief of Staff, Nicolle Cestero, to carry out his duties as president until a successor is decided. A seasoned leader who has been there for both the institution and its people, Maniaci leaves behind big shoes to fill. In this time of uncertainty known as the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking for someone with a strong plan and sense of self. One of the three finalists chosen by the Presidential Search Committee, Jim Burkee, may be the person AIC is looking for.

Presidential candidates Beth Mauch (left), Jim Burkee (center), and Hubert Benitez (right) visited campus during the first two weeks of the semester to meet with students, faculty, and staff. (AIC Marketing)

Dr. Jim Burkee’s experiences include teaching in Lutheran schools, becoming peer-elected Faculty Chair at Concordia University Wisconsin, and even being part of a family business–ATC Travel Management. He later went on to be recruited as Dean, Vice Provost, Vice President, and Executive Vice President at Concordia University New York. At the time of writing, his current position is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and a Professor of Humanities at the College of Saint Vincent in New York. In addition to this, he has a strong interest in debates and politics.

From the impression given from his answers to questions at the Presidential Forum for students on January 20, he is a very interpersonal man. Burkee requested that attendees at the small turnout all pull their chairs and gather in a circle, sharing stories as members of the same community.

When asked if he had any thoughts or ideas of how American International College could become more involved with the surrounding Springfield community, he answered: “In the past year, I’ve been positioned into a role that is almost exclusively focused on building connections and partnerships and communities … Job pathways for students, enrollments and partnerships, and some of them are about connecting with folks in the community. Local government, working with school districts … This is just one example of ways to serve our community.”

Burkee’s competition is Elizabeth K. Mauch, current president of Bethany College, and Hubert Benitez, current Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Academic Innovation and Acting Chief Inclusion Officer at Rockhurst University. Mauch and Benitez also attended campus during the first two weeks of the spring semester to meet with faculty, students, and staff.

A few AIC students had interesting things to say about the candidates, such as Alyssa Kelleher, who got a chance to meet with both Beth Mauch and Jim Burkee. “For Beth, I really liked her,” Kelleher commented. “I read her background and it said she had experience as a president… For Jim, I wasn’t a fan. He didn’t… have presidential experienced and didn’t really seem to answer any of my questions fully.”

Alyssa Kelleher comments on the presidential candidates. (Alyssa Kelleher)

Certain staff members, however, seemed to have a more optimistic outlook. Adjunct political science professor Gary Boisseau believes that Burkee gave an “interesting presentation,” and that when questioned about having a partnership with a local high schools, Burkee suggested that a dual-credit program where “students could take a class at AIC and it would count towards the high school and the college” would work as a viable option.

When questioned about which he values more, the relationship with the population of AIC or the efficiency of his tactics, Burkee answered with this:

“Now, I’m a very relational person. We are hyper-relational, that stuff is very important … There is a duty, first and foremost, to make sure that the institution is financially sound and stable … Institutions like ours will all be struggling financially, so a big part of my work will be spending the next few years doing everything to prepare for that.” Burkee has also said he intends to play an active role in students’ lives, similar to the previous president, and hopes to find ways to socialize with the student body of American International College.

Assistant professor of English, William Steffen, got a chance to attend sessions with all three of the candidates, and found something to like about each of them. He praised Burkee for his business-savvy side, saying, “He had some clear proposals for how to earn revenue for the college, and how to capitalize on the ‘I’ in AIC. As a first-generation college student himself, I think he is also uniquely positioned to understand where a lot of our students are coming from.”

All three candidates are equally qualified individuals with their own unique approaches and qualities. Jim Burkee is the candidate of focus for this article, but the other candidates likely have a lot to offer as well. May the best candidate win!