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Picking MU’s provost

Friday, May 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:20 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

At a campus forum Monday, MU provost-hopeful Raymond Alden was pointedly questioned about academic freedom as it related to an incident last year at his campus, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

There, a professor did not support a remark made in class that homosexuals are less likely to plan financially for the future. A student took offense; and, ultimately, Alden, who is provost at UNLV, placed a “non-disciplinary letter of instruction” in the professor’s file.

“If a person has controversial ideas, views or hypotheses, they should have every right to bring it into the classroom,” Alden responded at the forum, echoing the letter’s contents. “When you give out opinion as fact, or false information, I think you do cross the line of academic responsibility.”

The exchange was the most heated of any at forums held for the three candidates up for provost, MU’s No. 2 job. Alden, Brian Foster from the University of New Mexico and Janie Fouke from Michigan State University each spent two days interviewing on campus. The question-and-answer forums drew faculty and staff but few students.

Here is a look at three themes raised at the forums. Remarks by the candidates are from those events.

Diversity

Under Foster’s administration as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at UNM, he transformed academic leadership through hiring deans for nearly all the colleges and schools.

“Before he came to UNM, there was little diversity in the Dean’s Council,” said Nancy Uscher, who served as associate provost from 2000 to 2004. “When I left, half were women or minorities. He really changed the culture of academic leadership.”

Others, however, did not see the university’s changing diversity as a single-handed action. Faculty Senate president Ed De Santis said he did not want to give details about Foster’s tenure because he did not want to affect the hiring process. De Santis did comment, however, on the changing diversity at the university.

“What (Foster) did was in the context of an overall institutional effort to bring in more women faculty members, especially in the sciences, and to recruit minority students,” De Santis said. “He didn’t do that alone.”

Diversity at UNLV also increased under Alden’s leadership as provost and executive vice president; with more than 300 new faculty members hired, about 25 percent came from under-represented groups. Much of this was possible because the Nevada Supreme Court ruled diversity at the university extends to all campus positions allowing the university to aggressively recruit under-represented candidates in the hiring process, Alden said.

“We had a deal where if we had one job opening and two really good people from under-represented groups, he would get a second job to hire both,” he said.

When it comes to diversity, Fouke has a different perspective than the other two candidates; she is one of the first dozen female deans of engineering in the nation. In the past 20 years, the percentage of female engineers has dropped from about 23 percent to less than 20 percent.

“She’s given a lot of her own efforts promoting women engineers,” said Thomas Wolff, associate dean of engineering at Michigan State. “For the broader diversity issue, her biggest mark is she’s very strong in faculty candidate hiring. She won’t approve candidate pools for interviews unless we make every effort to get a diverse pool of candidates – it’s not enough to just advertise in ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education.’ We’ve had candidate pools sent back by Dean Fouke before for not being diverse enough.”

At Michigan State, African-American students generally entered the engineering program with sub-par math skills. To bring these students in line with the demands of the engineering college, Fouke said she moved a tutoring center next to the diversity program center and tried to change the culture of engineering clubs to be service-oriented, with the honors clubs providing tutoring to other students.

Budget

[photo]

Raymond W. Alden III

Current position: Executive vice president and provost, University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology, minor in chemistry, magna cum laude, Stetson University, Deland, Fla., 1971; Doctorate in zoology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., 1976.

FYI: Alden was not in the job market when nominated for this position at MU. (Names of prospective candidates are submitted to a search committee.)

Quote: “The interest was the challenge — the fact that you’re already among the top universities, at least on paper — not sure how deep it goes — and have plans to aspire to the top in the (Association of American Universities). That’s a challenge, and I thrive on challenges. You don’t want to maintain the status quo.”

(JOSH VINCE/Missourian)

As state funding for higher education continues to decline, the provost’s control over the budget and resource allocation becomes an issue.

Foster’s advantage is awareness of the budget and how public resources operate within the state.

“He’s very policy savvy — he loves to debate public policy and has skill at navigating agencies of government so he is up to date with what’s happening,” UNM’s Uscher said. “He knows how to make the budget work.”

Foster said the key to state funding for MU is for the university to assert itself as a statewide asset — a claim, he said, no other institution can make.

“Mizzou has to make a very compelling case of being a huge statewide asset,” he said. “That compelling agenda has to be developed. That statewide claim for MU is being a huge economic driver in the state.”

To make the most of declining funds, Alden created an organizational system of priorities to plan resource allocation and focus it at UNLV. He developed 11 “macrothemes” for the university to build to national and international stature.

“Instead of trying to be great at everything, we made a group of things to be great at — units to target to be great at,” UNLV’s Robinson said. “We target so we don’t fly all over trying to do everything. When the budget is tight, this is a good way to plan ahead.”

Alden said he understands the challenge of declining funds, but he doesn’t have the “magic answers.”

“I think the answer is to strive for more and not the status quo,” he said. As the state tightens its belt on funding, Fouke has looked for deficiencies in the budget. Wolff at Michigan State said Fouke reorganized the college into a smaller number of departments and began ordering computers for all of the departments at one time to get a bulk rate.

“She is extremely good with looking at the budget and extracting from the budget information and where to introduce efficiencies,” Wolff said. “One of her strong points is money management. She would remark that she sees the budget in colors.”

Faculty Relations and Retention

Amplifying the voice of faculty in the administration of the university was a goal Foster had at UNM. To achieve this he instituted new policies and structures, such as making the Faculty Senate president a member of the provost’s staff and sponsoring an annual senate retreat. He also highly values continuity at the university by faculty retention.

“Life’s too short not to spend your time being honored and validated,” Foster said. “We have to make their work at the university honored and validated. The quality of life at the university needs to be high.”

Foster also suggested developing a creative way to advertise for couples, such as hiring a husband and wife at the same time since many couples are both in the field of higher education.

Alden has also amplified the faculty voice through creating ad hoc committees of faculty and administrators to address critical topics facing the campus, such as tenure/promotion processes, faculty workload, processes for hiring/promotion of non-tenured faculty and others.

Under his administration at UNLV, a teaching learning center was also developed for tying the knot between faculty and administrative responsibilities. This gives faculty interested in administrative positions resources to make the transition.

“It’s paid off,” he said. “Eight people who were involved are now department chairs. We also have a program for provost scholars where faculty compete to work in the provost office and get a semester of perspective from the administrative view.”

Fouke has similar programs at Michigan State for faculty development in administrative positions.

“For leadership development, the idea in faculty first occurred to me of the absence to tools to help faculty mature in their careers when we needed a department chair,” Fouke said. “I realized you needed intent to mentoring people in their careers. It’s interesting to figure out how to do that across the university.”

Fouke suggested possibly holding a monthly workshop series to help faculty advance their career goals.

She also recognizes the pressure of faculty leaving for higher salaries at other institutions or in private practice.

“If I know someone is going out looking for offers, I have them for dinner the next night,” Fouke said. “The faculty need to feel appreciated and part of the network.”


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