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:
Mahyar Amouzegar interviewed on campus Sept. 7. Amouzegar served as dean of the College of Engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2011 to 2016. He has also been associated with the RAND Corp. since 1998, where he has served as senior policy analyst and adjunct staff, leading projects related to national security and more. From 2005 to 2011, he was associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering at California State University, Long Beach. Amouzegar, who describes himself as a lifelong recreational writer, also recently published his first novel.
Amouzegar has a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from San Francisco State, a master’s in operations research from University of California, Los Angeles, as well as a doctorate in operations research from UCLA.
Born in Iran and raised in San Francisco, Amouzegar describes himself as a first-generation student whose life was “saved” by a professor he met at San Francisco State—an experience he said that has always served to remind him, even when budgets are tight, why educators do what they do: “Don’t forget your students,” he said. “Your touch has such a huge impact on them.”
As an administrator, he said, he seeks to be approachable—a transparent leader inclined to “think out loud.” “There will be nothing surprising to you,” he said.
On what he would do if he gets the job:
Amouzegar said he would spend the first year engaged in conversation with faculty and staff, including weekly lunches, and would keep an open-door policy. “I believe in walking the campus. I believe in the personal touch,” he said. He said that he believes he can help the University achieve the changes it needs to achieve within the first seven years, with success evident within the first four to five years.
On the balance between research and teaching:
Amouzegar said research is “foundational to what we do.” “How can you teach engineers of the future if you yourself are not in research?” He said that, as a leader, he has supported giving faculty resources to travel, offering two years release time for junior faculty seeking to bulk up their research portfolios, and finding ways to help faculty who have not been involved in active research in many years to get back into it, if they want to.
On his approach to faculty who are interested in creating new programs:
“I’m a risk-taker. I believe in experimenting on campus,” he said. If faculty, a chair or a department come to him with a well-researched idea that shows documented potential for success, he said, then “why not.” But, he said, knowing the pie is fixed, it’s important to have consensus and faculty buy-in across the university. The focus should be on student enrollment.
On why he wants to work for UNO:
Amouzegar said he loves New Orleans. He described himself and his wife as foodies who love history. He said when visitors come to the United States from abroad and ask him where they should visit, his reply is that they should see San Francisco, New York and New Orleans. Amouzegar also said he wants to be UNO’s provost because he believes he has experience dealing with the same issues that are facing UNO. “I’m arrogant and confident enough to think I can help … I want to be provost because it’s where you can make the most impact on campus.”
On how to attract out-of-state students, like those in California, to come to UNO:
UNO should think about entering into more in-state tuition agreements with states like California, he said. Long-term, the university should be engaged with the community through high schools and middle schools, including having counselors on campus. He said he sees the challenge of increasing enrollment as “a very solvable problem.” “I think the city sells itself,” he said.
On taking risks:
He said that too often university deans and provosts shy away from risks because they fear losing their jobs. He said he believes that being a “yes-man” to the president is not always a good thing. Within constraints, he said, it’s important to not fear failure. He said he supports more public-private relationships. “We want to make sure students have access to our educational system and are successful,” he said.
On MFA programs:
Amouzegar said he believes liberal arts are an important ingredient in providing students with a diverse experience, “for the sake of learning.” Amouzegar said the courses he took as an undergraduate shaped him: “It made me not just a better person, but a better thinker and scholar.” He said he understands the pressure parents feel to make sure their children enter fields that will enable them to be employed, but that programs in the arts are essential. Conversely, he said, liberal arts students should have a practical understanding of technology. “I think it’s paramount that we have it all,” he said.
On what he would like to address in a 7- to 10-year plan:
Besides working to increase enrollment and fundraising, he said, he wants to make sure faculty has the resources it needs to travel and do research. He wants to make sure the environment is “a happy campus, where people are happy about what they’re doing.” All of it comes down to resources, he said.