Questions and answers with the interim provostTweet
As Binghamton University’s chief academic officer, the provost administers all academic programs. Jean-Pierre (Peter) Mileur, most recently professor and department chair of English and also former dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, assumed interim duties as provost July 1. In a recent conversation with Inside, Mileur provided his thoughts about the path the University is on.
Question: First, can you give us a status report of sorts, academically speaking?
Answer: There’s a lot of uncertainty about when we will come out of the budget problems we’re in and who the president will be and what staffing the new president will want, but we think our direction strategically is solid. The campus has a new strategic plan as part of our middle states accreditation, so we’ll get a chance to test out our update of the 2005 strategic plan and the new strategic plan for 2010 when Middle States reviewers come in early November. Their review starts with a document review in September.
The campus’ general strategic direction with the construction of new facilities and the renovation of old, to create additional infrastructure to support expanded research and instruction, is good. On the research side, our plans call for further development of University-business partnerships, tech transfer and a continued focus on the economic impact of the research we do.
We must also recognize that campus growth is probably in the cards for our own development and due to the crucial economic role we play in this region of the state.
Q: Can you clarify what the University’s plans are for growth?
A: When we talk about growth, these discussions have been in the context of a facilities master plan and the time frame is 2024 – so it’s not tomorrow that we expect to reach 20,000 – and there are clearly a lot of imponderables. We need facilities. We also need resources, whether we get them directly from the state or achieve them through flexibility on things like tuition and generate resources ourselves. There are quality issues of how deep into our applicant pool we can go. Can we attract the right graduate students? Some of this growth discussion is perception. People are hearing the 20,000, but they’re not hearing it’s 20,000 only if we can maintain quality.
Q: Why has this perception persisted?
A: Because it’s a larger number and because until now the campus hasn’t been explicit that it should grow to be the university we need to be – for ourselves and for the state. We’re now taking a more public, definite position.
And a couple of things have happened. One of the most important is that there has been a shifting of resources and of a commitment toward a more open recognition that the academic side comes first. You could say a culture change is already well underway in which other components of the campus have absorbed a higher proportion of cuts – and Jim Van Voorst as vice president of administration and his people deserve a lot of credit for absorbing cuts – and as a result, we’re remarkably stable academically given the cuts. So locally, a lot of things that needed to happen to enable to us to grow and develop have happened. Other things have to happen as well. The state needs to commit to helping, minimally, to build the facilities we need, and we also need the kind of budget flexibility that will stimulate growth, for our good and for the good of the system as a whole.
Q: As provost, what role can you play in meeting our strategic plan and paving the way for growth?
A: Right now, the sorts of things that I can do as provost are to negotiate what I think is an appropriate budget split within the campus, and ensure that we’re negotiating with organizations like the SUNY Construction Fund based on what we think we ought to be doing and will be doing. I’m trying to do what this campus needs to do. Of the university centers, we’re the most rural and in the shakiest area economically, so our responsibilities in the long run are very different than the responsibilities of some of the other university centers. We need to understand that there is a sense in which we do have the capacity in enrollments and expanded research to maximize our economic and social impact on a part of New York that’s struggling. We have an obligation and a desire to play the strongest possible role.
Q: What would you say to the faculty?
A: I would thank the faculty because they are the ones to deliver the teaching and the research, and there’s no question they’ve done a very good job of maintaining the quality of what we offer under difficult circumstances. However bad it is, I know I can always count on our faculty. This campus has done extremely well in maintaining our numbers – key indicators including graduation rates and student/faculty ratios. None have slipped significantly during these budget cuts, largely because as much of the pain as possible has been focused away from the academic side.
We also understand and are doing everything we can to move in the direction of returning income from entrepreneurial activities and additional instructional activities to the generating unit. It will be difficult for awhile, but we accept that principle and will do whatever we can do incentivize entrepreneurial activities.
Q: You’ve reorganized some functions. Can you tell us about that?
A: It’s not so much a reorganization as a re-tasking. John Meador has been re-titled to dean of libraries as a recognition of the importance of libraries, of archiving and managing information, and of being innovative and focused on delivering information as a service to scholars and students.
The position of vice provost for undergraduate education is being filled by Don Loewen, associate professor and chair of German and Russian Studies. There are a number of issues internal to the campus and to do with system initiatives regarding undergraduate education that will require more attention than I can give personally. It’s important that someone with credibility as a faculty member and who has close faculty connections occupy that position as a signal of continuing recognition that undergraduate education is still the meat and potatoes – the entrée – of this institution.
Don will fill the position on a half-time basis, but represents a reinvestment, and the strength of the faculty presence in the provost’s office is important. The Undergraduate Task Force that he chairs is continuing its work and it’s up to committee how he will work with them. He’s been given high marks for his leadership in that role.
Terry Kelly Wallace is working both for Brian Rose in Student Affairs and myself, specifically to address, as a campus priority, the issue of transfer students. How can we take better care of them and what can we do to ensure their success? What kind of outreach are we already doing with feeder institutions? We take this very seriously, and are responsive to the trustees and SUNY central with their concerns for mobility within the system. We recognize the value of transfers. The SUNY system has also imposed a set of requirements that we will need to take steps to deal with. We’ll have to make some adjustments in our general education program and we’ll work with the Faculty Senate on that. It’s really quite involved.
Roger Westgate is still working with the system to develop best practices and policies with athletics and the academic side. I see this as a transitional position and he is going to come on as a vice provost for compliance to oversee and help with changes that are occurring and will occur in the relationship between athletics and the rest of the campus. We’ll strengthen faculty oversight on the academic side, but also integrate athletics as an institution more effectively into the overall life of the campus and enhance mutual understanding and mutual support.
Q: You’ve accepted this position as interim provost. Why?
A: It’s something I can do for the campus. I know the campus and I know the people. The issues aren’t new, so it’s been a fairly easy transition and I was basically brought in to support an interim president from the outside, to provide support from someone who is familiar with the campus.
It’s a pleasure to work with Peter Magrath and with his personal qualities and his enormous wealth of experience, he is having a positive impact on the campus.
As he says, this campus is too big to be small and intimate, and too small to be what it needs to be at this point. We’re bringing a certain clarity to this point.