Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Image: President Fiorentino via wcupa.edu.jpg

Nestled behind frosted glass, encased within the stone walls of the infamous castle building officially known as Phillips Memorial Building, lays the President’s office. The Quad sat down with President Fiorentino on Feb. 9th for his final interview before his retirement on June 30. 

Academic Tenure

President Fiorentino is wrapping up his 41st year at West Chester University. Of course, not all of that time was spent as president. He didn’t originally plan on becoming a professor but found that he loved teaching economics after he student-taught as a graduate student at Temple University. After getting his doctorate in economics, WCU hired him for a year while a faculty member went on sabbatical. He ended up staying and became a permanent faculty member in 1985. 

In 1987, he was elected by the economics department to become the department chair, a decision he says was unusual. 

“I didn’t even have tenure but I had a sort of knack for administration that people saw,” Fiorentino reflects.

He continued teaching until 1991, when he became interim dean of Business and Public Affairs (now Public Management) and officially became the dean in 1993. He remained the dean until 2013, when he became the Vice President of External Operations for former WCU President Greg Weisenstein. When Wesenstein left, Fiorentino became Interim President. He he has been President, including his time as Interim, since 2016. 

Housing Crisis Update

In response to a question The Quad asked about the progress on the housing crisis, Fiorentino restated the lengthy process of planning and building new university-owned housing and reminded us that it is not an easy process. There are many stakeholders and factors involved in decisions like this, including getting approval from the five different townships West Chester University resides in. 

Fiorentino stated that “we’ve absolutely made significant progress since we had the question at the town hall,” but described how, over a year after the problem escalated with protests, they’re still trying to decide viable options for placing new housing with their consultant. The borough wants the university to keep the new housing in “the Superblock” — the section of North Campus located between High and New Streets, and Sharpless Street to Rosedale Avenue. Fiorentino reiterated that the space occupied by the old Lawrence dining hall is still being considered as a possible option. Additionally, he stated that incoming president Bernotsky is involved in these discussions. 

Pedestrian Safety

Despite the implementation of a new traffic light pattern at the intersections of S. Church Street and Rosedale Avenue, on Jan. 31 (a week into the semester) at around 4:53 p.m., according to Chesco Webcad systems, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle in front of Sykes Student Union. This marks the fourth known person in the last two years to be hit, and the first of this semester. Fiorentino previously expressed his urgency and worry around these situations in fall at the SGA Town Hall, emphasizing, “You want to talk about something that I worry about — It’s crossing the street safely… We’ve had three more people injured that I know of in the last year being hit by a car than were endangered by Cavalcante.” 

In light of this situation, we asked Fiorentino what his plans were regarding student safety in his final semester at WCU, especially as he made it known that this was a priority for him. 

“I’m thrilled to have the light that we have now at Church and Rosedale,” Fiorentino stated in our interview, but he still sees problems with other pedestrian crosswalks on campus. While not excusing the behavior of drivers, Fiorentino says he has seen the extreme frustration they exhibit during peak hours of pedestrian traffic, as the large amount of pedestrian crosswalks on High Street causes drivers to stop-and-start multiple times before they reach the light at Linden Street. This constant stopping-and-starting can make angry drivers take more risks, causing them to run lights and cut off pedestrians in the crosswalks. 

“I can tell you, having an office with windows on this side [of High Street], I hear tires screeching almost everyday and I’m cringing to hear what happens next.”

He said there used to be a system which coordinated the lights from the center of town outwards. This system allowed traffic to flow more smoothly in West Chester, but it was disconnected because of continuous roadwork. Fiorentino shared with The Quad that the borough received a grant to put in a new wireless system. The system would not only coordinate the lights, but also allow all four lights at High and Rosedale to go red at the same time so all pedestrians could walk at once. Fiorentino said the current situation, where cars are “gunning it to try and make the light” when turning left at the same time that people are crossing, is dangerous. “Everybody wears black around here and they cross the street at night. Even well-meaning drivers can’t see.”

His vision for this semester? In the next four to five months he has left here, he aims to add an additional red light at the crosswalk on the other side of Sykes Student Union, where the pedestrian was hit, and to sync the two lights together.

“If we had [a light] also at the other side of Sykes… we could get a lot of [pedestrian] traffic through there. Everything goes red at once, students [cross; it would be] much, much safer.”

Fiorentino said he’s working with a representative at PennDOT on a safety awareness program for students. “Remember when you were a child and you were taught to look both ways before you cross the street? Students don’t do that anymore. They look at their phones and they assume, well, it’s a crosswalk so people have to stop.” 

In addition to increasing student awareness, Fiorentino is looking at plans to cluster the pedestrian crosswalks on High Street. He only finds it safe to cross at the light at High Street and Linden Street next to Saxbys.

“I’m hopeful that within maybe a year or so, we can get that second light, we can get the improvements along [High Street], and this is going to be a much safer area for automobiles and for pedestrians.”

Once-in-a-lifetime Occurrences

The Quad asked Fiorentino how he dealt with so many once-in-a-lifetime events — the Covid-19 pandemic, a bomb threat, an attempted murderer on south campus, an escaped convict and the housing crisis — during his presidency. 

“My general advice to leaders and my response to that question: I focus my attention on the things I can control and I don’t worry about the stuff I can’t control…Because you can get yourself very frustrated over things that you can’t do anything about.”

Fiorentino reflected on March 2020, stating “the general consensus was, if you got this virus, you were probably going to die.”

Before spring break of that year, a poll was put out asking students where they were going for spring break. Results showed that students were going to hotspots like Florida and traveling on cruise ships and airplanes. 

He said he sat down with the cabinet and discussed the poll results, asking, “based on what we just learned, does anybody here think that all these students are going to go and travel all over creation, and not a single case of COVID-19 is going to come back to the West Chester campus?” 

Everyone sat there in silence for a minute and someone said “Well, no, that’s ridiculous,” resulting in the decision to close the campus. A student did contact campus the next week to say she had contracted the virus. 

Nancy Gainer, Senior Associate Vice President for University Communications and Marketing, told us Fiorentino was put in the Philadelphia Business Journal Power 100 because of that decision. “He was applauded by a lot of individuals for the decision he made because, if you remember, we were the first institution to make a decision to go remote.” 

“I asked the right question,” Fiorentino said of the decision. “And then, it was very easy in the fact that no other school had done it didn’t matter to me because this is my school and I’m worried about these students, these employees.” 

He said he loves being the one responsible for making the decisions. “I still love the job. I’m not leaving because I’m tired of it. I’m leaving because it’s time for me to move on and do something else. I’ve had 41 years [here] — just long enough for anybody to be in one place, right?”

Retirement

When asked what he would spend all his free time on during retirement, Fiorentino said he would still keep busy. 

“This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. This is 24/7,” Fiorentino says of working as WCU’s President. “It’s hard to imagine going from this level of intensity…to just waking up the next day and saying, ‘Gee, what should I do today?’ I don’t think that’s in my nature.”

He plans to possibly do some consulting, join a non-profit board and play golf. Fiorentino is also looking forward to spending more time with family. “I have three children and four grandchildren who live in Chester County, and I plan to be a more focused granddad than I’ve been able to be in recent years.” 

In deciding to step down, he says, “It’s a good time for somebody else to come in here and re-energize the place.”

 


Olivia Carzo is a fourth-year English major in the Honors College with a concentration in Visual and Digital Rhetoric and minors in Journalism and Linguistics. OC920925@wcupa.edu   

Emma Hogan is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism. EH954390@wcupa.edu  

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