Four people have been named finalists in the University of New Orleans’ search for a new provost.
The person who fills the position will succeed interim provost Norm Whitley, who took over when John Nicklow was named the University’s new president.The new provost will report directly to the president and will serve as UNO’s chief academic officer, providing vision, leadership and oversight for all academic programs, enrollment management and information technology.
Each finalist was asked to participate in an open forum interview with faculty, staff and students.
Here, we bring you highlights from those Q&A sessions:
Gordon Baylis, professor and former vice president for research at Western Kentucky University, interviewed on campus Sept. 1. He describes himself as scientist who takes an interdisciplinary approach to academia and as a faculty member who happens to have a talent in administration. He says he’s concise, a strong listener and skilled at finding money.
He oversaw research at WKU from 2010 to 2015. Before that, he worked for 15 years at the University of South Carolina, where he arrived as a faculty member, then rose to associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts in 2001, associate provost and associate vice president for research in 2004 and vice president for operations at the university’s Health Sciences South Carolina, a start-up organization designed to promote statewide high-tech biomedical research through collaboration with hospital systems and other institutions.
Baylis holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and the equivalent of a doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Bristol, a master of science in experimental psychology from Sussex University and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Oxford.
On UNO as a driver of innovation:
Baylis said he believes UNO is well-positioned to be a leader in innovation in part because of its balance of teaching and research and its engagement with the city of New Orleans. He said he also appreciates the University’s commitment to diversity.
"We've got to be doing things a lot smarter now. And the only way we're going to do things a lot smarter as a country is we've got to have to have universities that drive innovation. Universities have always done this to some extent. It was a little bit of a luxury. Now, it's survival mode. For this country to maintain its advantage in the world, universities need to be transforming the lives of students and transforming the economies of cities and regions. It would be awfully nice to have a university that did both ... I don’t think there are many universities that are positioned to be an integrated innovation driver. I think the University of New Orleans is one of them."
On the Liberal Arts:
“We've got to get beyond subjects. We've got to get beyond skills. We have to teach lifelong innovation. We need to have a new take on liberal arts—slightly more applied liberal arts that has that flavor of being more about the cognitive, skills, rather than facts.”
On the relationship between faculty and administrators:
“My philosophy is the following: It's absolutely idiotic as the administrator to tell the faculty what to do. ... You're going to do what you want to do because you have the freedom of tenure. You're very smart people. Let's let you do what you want to do. I'm guessing you're going to do a bunch of good stuff. What I have to do as administrator, what deans and department heads have to do, is to aggregate what you want to do into a big, successful university.”
Baylis said he’s skilled in finding money. “I can find money. You need resources? It's part of what I do. I've always done it. We shouldn't think, ‘oh my gosh, the budget's gone down, what do we need to cut?’ You just want to slide down into nowhere, keep accepting your budget and keep sliding. You want to fight your way back up.”
On increasing student enrollment:
Baylis said that attracting students should be an aggressive pursuit: “Recruitment is a war. You have to do it. If we don't go after them, someone else will.” One of UNO’s advantages, he said, is the fact that people know about New Orleans. Also key, he said, is the fact that UNO is really good at taking non-traditional students. “Those students need to feel like they belong here. Because if they belong here,” Baylis said, “they will stay here.”
On recruiting and retaining faculty:
Baylis said faculty usually leave for two reasons—they perceive the university is “heading nowhere” and/or their salary is at a standstill. “To keep faculty, you need to believe the university has a future and you have a future here and that you will get pay raises. That's got to be done.” Baylis said that while there may be uncertainty about when pay raises will become a reality, the university needs to start planning for raises. Additionally, stability in administration will go a long way toward helping faculty feel supported. “Instability kills any institution,” he said. “You don't want it to be too stable. But there's a sweet spot—6 to 10 years.”
Additionally, Baylis said universities should not expect to improve research or teaching through hiring. “If you want to up the research culture, it'll be not by hiring people in, it'll be by stepping up research and then bringing people into that kind of productive environment. If you want to up the teaching culture here, you need to do it by developing your teaching quality and then bring people into from the outside …. Don't think I'm saying that quality is bad, but if you want to improve quality by bringing people in, it won't work.”
On MFA programs:
Baylis describes himself as a consumer of the arts—a fan of dance, theater and more. “Their role is they're the easiest part of the institution for the public to understand,” he said. “And so, we need to really support how you, the artist people, reach out to the community. Having a great chemistry department, what does that mean to the average person on the street? They have no idea. But having a great theater department, oh, they know what that means. Having a great artist, they know what that means … I see it as an integral part of the university … They generate interest in the university. They generate the reputation of the university.”
On his approach to online and hybrid instruction:
Baylis says he believes it’s important to exercise caution with respect to over-reliance on online instruction. He said universities are rushing to it “as a cash cow,” but may be sacrificing quality as a result. He says it should be part of what the university does, but leaders should not expect it to solve all of an institution’s financial problems. “I, as a professor, increasingly provide more of the stuff to my students online so that I can spend less of the class time talking about stuff and more discussing, confronting, challenging students. Online classes for some content areas and for some training areas are very good. I'm concerned about the quality of some online teaching … I am more cautious than most administrators are about online teaching.”