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:
Michael Savoie is assistant senior vice president of academic affairs for special projects at Utah Valley University, where he has worked for the last three years. Savoie interviewed on campus Aug. 22.
A Louisiana native, Savoie has spent his career marrying his business and technology interests with higher education. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from LSU, an MBA from Nicholls State University, and then completed a doctorate in production/operations management from the University of North Texas in 1991.
He has held faculty positions at University of Texas at Dallas, University of Dallas, Southern Methodist University and, from 1992 to 1995, served as a visiting assistant professor in UNO’s College of Business Administration.
He describes himself as “a change agent” who believes in shared governance and transparency and has a track record of improving enrollment. He says universities are brain trusts that should remain nimble, positioning themselves to proactively serve student and business needs with degree programs that will meet the demands of a thriving workforce.
On what he believes to be the most important priorities for a provost.
The number one priority, he said is ensuring student enrollment is good, consistent and growing. Where enrollment is in decline, the provost needs to have a clear understanding of why. The provost also should serve as “an interpreter” for faculty, he said.
“I’m not asking you to tell me what you think the stakeholders of the university want,” he said. “I’m asking you to tell me what you believe your role in the university, your college, your department, what your job is—what you believe your value proposition is—and then my job is to relate that to the needs and the value proposition from the stakeholders and make sure that those two things get along, that we have a meeting of the minds. So, at the end of the day, what I do more than anything else is communication.”
On his experience increasing enrollment:
Savoie says he helped increase enrollment in programs he oversaw at the University of Dallas, the University of Texas at Dallas and Utah Valley University. Tactics included getting “very creative,” restructuring programs and, at Utah Valley, involving more business leaders by increasing the number of advisory boards to involve more business representatives. “So, if you want an increase in enrollment, I’m your guy,” he said.
On the role of Master of Fine Arts programs:
Savoie said it’s important to give students avenues for real-world application of their degrees: “I think the biggest issue I have with MFA programs is making sure that we have a pipeline for employment for students coming out, we have the ability to intern them while we’re doing the program,” he said.
On research and instruction:
“Research is absolutely critical to the success of a university,” said Savoie. Faculty should have a direct line of communication to the university’s research head—and the head of research should have direct line of communication to the president, he said. University administration should make it as easy as possible for faculty who want to engage in research to do so.
For those who don’t want to be involved in research, he said, they must exhibit full investment in quality teaching. Likewise, those who want to research still need to show they’re doing their part to keep students engaged in learning.
“If all you’re doing is teaching and your teaching evaluations are 5 out of 5, I am a happy camper,” he said. “If you are teaching and your performance evaluations are 2 out of 5, I have a huge problem with you. Because we are here for the students.”
On the application of business concepts to higher education:
“We need to create a university that is agile, that is responsive, that creates programs literally on the fly to be able to meet the needs of our community. It needs to be value-added. It has to have service components. Students need to walk out of here with a skill that they are able to do. We also need strong liberal arts. We need strong humanities. We need strong multi-disciplinary programs.”