Northeast Georgian Features Piedmont University President Marshall Criser
This article ran in the Jan. 6, 2023 edition of The Northeast Georgian.
Criser looks to merge university, community
by Emma Marti
The backdrop of the Demorest community helped bring Piedmont University its newest president.
Piedmont University named Marshall Criser its new president in December, but it was fate that brought his much-traveled journey here. From living in Miami, Washington and Tallahassee, Criser heard about Demorest through his daughter’s fiancé and made the connection when he saw the job listing.
“I was scrolling through the Chronicle of Higher Education and I saw Demorest. I stopped, read it, then went online and did a little searching and learned about Piedmont,” Criser said. “Demorest and Habersham County have everything you would hope to find in a community that really is a community.”
Although Criser is new to the Piedmont community, he is no stranger to the role a university’s president plays in the success of the institution. Even though Criser is stepping into the role of president of the institution – replacing the retiring James Mellichamp – he does not want people to feel as though he is inaccessible. It is “a dream” to Criser that he is directly involved on campus. He believes he has an opportunity where he can get to know everyone on campus and he wants them to know his first name.
It is important to Criser that he has that sort of relationship with the campus.
“Titles can get in your way. There are times when the title helps because it’ll tell someone something is important to the University,” he said. “On the other side, you get a certain title and people think they have to worry about whether they can say something you disagree with. I hope people learn very quickly that I can handle it.”
Criser is not ignorant to Piedmont’s previous challenges. Like any other institution, Piedmont experiences issues that require complex solutions.
Criser said, “There is no one magic answer, it’s going to be an evolving solution. It’s not like we have this one thing to solve, we have a series of things to solve. My urgency is to make sure that we are right for fall.”
Amid financial turmoil, Criser is aware something needs to be done to fix Piedmont’s budget. This is an evolving issue that Piedmont is working to resolve.
“We have to figure out how to get ourselves right sized. The best lesson I’ve ever learned was when you cut costs, understand what you are cutting,” Criser said. “I want to approach this in a way that we figure out how to continue, not only maintaining, but creating value. I would like to see a point when we’re growing again.”
Criser believes that one important aspect to the solution of Piedmont’s problems is the institution’s relationship with the surrounding community. “This is a Piedmont University discussion. This is a Demorest and a Habersham County discussion. This is, at some level, a North Georgia discussion, and maybe the state of Georgia, because those are all the places we can get support from. I think this is something that is both local and at the state level,” Criser said. “I hope that the community understands how critical we are to each other. I want to explore as many partnerships as I can possibly find with the city, with the county and take that however far we can take it.”
Being president of Piedmont University is not a position that one can take on alone. In order to strengthen the bond between Piedmont’s faculty, Criser is meeting with different groups in order to get to know them, and vice versa.
“Some decisions we make are not going to be popular with people. I want them to understand that we got there through a conversation we had,” Criser said. “If this feels like we really work together, and we come up with a plan, it’s the administration, the faculty, the employees, the students and the community.”
Criser has determined various goals for Piedmont, some long term and some short term. “I believe that we are positioned as a higher education institution to tackle a national challenge these days about higher education. My long term goal is that when you read discussions about Piedmont, that what you’re talking about is the value we create for students.”
Students are always at the center of Criser’s decisions. Even after those students graduate, Criser hopes Piedmont is still on their minds.
“It’s not just about recruiting and enrolling people, but building a community where students are successful on the campus and they’re also successful when they graduate, whether they continue their education or go on into the workforce,” Criser said. “We want to make sure that when kids come to Piedmont, they’re successful. We need to think about how we invest in them as they invest their time in us.”
Criser said he is excited for this new chapter in his life as well as the impact he will have on Piedmont.
“What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be president of Piedmont University. That’s not just getting elected or having a first day, that’s having a 10- year view. I will grow into this position, because I want to be a great person.”