By: Amanda Dee – Online-Editor-in-Chief
When Eric Spina was younger, he wanted to be what all boys want to be: a priest. After living a few more years in the world, he decided it would be more realistic to pursue a career as a professional hockey player – but finally became an engineer.
A Princeton doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering and 27 years at Syracuse University later, Spina moves away from the place he’s called home for most of his life. But when asked why, he answered, “…because I’m coming home.”
Spina will fill President Dan Curran’s position and officially take on the role of the 19th president of the University of Dayton next July. The Board of Trustees announced this decision Sept. 15 in the KU Ballroom to students, faculty and staff.
“I joked with Dr. Dan the other day: I couldn’t decide if wanted to go somewhere where the departing president was failing or succeeding,” Spina said in an exclusive interview with Flyer News. “It’s much easier to follow someone who hasn’t done well. But at the end of the day, I decided I wanted to follow a good president.”
Spina follows President Curran as the second lay person in the university’s history but stresses the importance of faith in his life, something he said guided him during his nine years at Syracuse as vice chancellor and provost.
“I’m a values-based leader…The kinds of messages I want to write and interactions I have with people are based on my faith,” he said. “It might take me a little while to live it a little more publically.”
When asked what distinguishes him from his predecessors, he said, “I’m Eric Spina…I don’t know it all. I’m going to listen, and we’ll talk.” Specifically comparing himself to his most recent predecessor, he said, “I have an L4-L5 problem, so we’ll have to see about crowd-surfing.”
Despite his university’s loss to the Flyers in the 2014 Sweet 16 matchup, when the aforementioned crowd-surfing occurred, Spina said his job at UD is to be a “cheerleader.” However, there are a lot of things he’ll have to figure out how to cheer for, including the Human Rights Program—the first undergrad program of its kind—and the university’s recent green initiatives, like the Hanley Sustainability Institute launched last September.
“You guys may not fully appreciate that combination of human rights and sustainability, but it really puts Dayton in a great, great spot. There’s a place there for engineering and humanities and the arts. That’s a place where everyone can play,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing where I’m not going to come in and say to do things differently. You have good people doing that. My job is to support them, raise money if I can and be a cheerleader.”
A word repeated at the Board of Trustees announcement of UD’s next president was “diversity,” something else Spina will have to figure out how to cheer for in the shadow of the China Institute and something he said is “really, really important to him.” He elaborated on three reasons why:
“First, look at the country. If you aren’t a place that is seen as supportive of a diverse student body, you’re in trouble from a business perspective. There are fewer and fewer students in the ‘majority.’ We need to be a place that’s seen as friendly.
“Second, I believe when you have different kinds of people around the table trying to solve a problem or sell a product, you’ll end up with a better product.…Just from an educational perspective, the best environment for learning is getting a bunch of people with different perspectives and backgrounds and ethnicities, different you-name-its, around the table.
“Third, it’s just the right thing to do… There’s no magic bullet, it’s going to take hard work from everybody. I know people here are committed and they’ve been working and there’s been positive change. I certainly want to continue that trajectory. I heard that from the search committee, I heard that from the trustees, I heard that from students. It’s an area where we’re going to talk a lot, but we’re also going to act a lot. I know how we did it at Syracuse, I know how they did it at some other universities. It needs to be authentic for the University of Dayton, and I’m confident we can make progress.”
Spina may not crowd-surf through the student neighborhood, but he’s already unblocked his Twitter account, private as of Sept. 15 at the time of his interview with FN, and said he’s on the hunt for places where he can donate his 20 orange ties. He emphasized his desire to be respectful of President Curran and the current administration, while still interacting with students, faculty and staff in any way he can.
“I love walking around and talking to students and hearing hopes and dreams and sorrows,” Spina said. “I love celebrating good news and crying over bad news.”
He didn’t get a chance to walk around campus or the neighborhood over parent’s weekend but said he’s “looking forward to being back on campus without a suit and a tie on.”
You can follow UD’s next president on Twitter.
Graphic by Art Director Kelsey Mills. Photo of Spina speaking at the Board of Trustees announcement by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.