UNO Welcomes The Fourth of Four Finalists for Provost

The University of New Orleans welcomed to campus today the last of four finalists in an extensive nationwide search for a new provost and vice president of academic affairs.

“My father says I went to university and never came back and he’s right,” said Alan R. White. “I’ve never had a job in my whole life outside academia.”

The provost of a university is the president’s right hand, serving as the university’s chief academic officer and acting on behalf of the university in the president’s absence. The provost should actively work to increase the university’s economic, social and cultural engagement, impact and outreach opportunities.

UNO President Peter J. Fos has also said that at UNO, the new provost will work to strengthen partnerships in the greater New Orleans area, as well as in the state, national, and global arenas to advance academic and university success.

“Undergraduate education to me is the underpinning of everything that we do, but I also believe that you can’t separate it from scholarship,” White said. “The reason that we’re all here is discovery and I believe that the best education involves getting students in undergraduate research,” the candidate said. “I like what I see here in terms of what you offer.”

White has been dean of Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C. since August 2005, he said. He is a plant cell biologist and carbohydrate chemist by training and has also served from 2000 to 2005 as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. and from 1997 to 2000 as chair of that university’s Department of Botany.

At a lunchtime open forum interview with faculty, White said that he is interested in working at UNO and has worked at similar institutions. East Carolina State University, where he currently works as a dean, has 27,000 students and North Dakota State had an average of 17,000 students during his tenure.

White reviewed UNO’s mission statement and offerings and drew corollaries to his own experiences. He also answered questions about a variety of topics, including distance education, which he has come to understand deeply during his time at East Carolina State. He came to East Carolina State as a skeptic about distance education and has converted his opinions, he said. When he first arrived at East Carolina State, the university was doing close to 75 to 80 percent of the distance education in Carolina state system, he said. That market share has dropped since then, because other universities in North Carolina wanted in.

“They went in early and they went in big,” White said. “The way it’s done at East Carolina is it takes money. You have to have the structure, the infrastructure, the technology, faculty who know how to do it and have the skills to do it,” he said. Implementing distance education programs is a “constant energy-changing process,” he said. “I think you need to target the energies to where it’s going to be most effective.”

He believes that distance education is perhaps most effective at the graduate level for teachers, nurses, Master of Business Administration students and others “who already have a degree, have a job, they want to add on at an advanced level. They are highly motivated…with relatively small numbers in each class,” he said.

Assessments are critical, as is training, he said, adding that East Carolina State gave existing faculty funding and time off to develop new online programs.

Selectivity is key to developing a top research program, he said, saying that universities need to consider societal needs and demand for graduate programs, then carefully select areas of study that help to meet state and national needs.

Faculty peppered White with questions about performance systems and incentive programs; his five-year plan for developing university research; strategies for retaining top researchers; faculty salary inversion and compression and trust. White drew on his own experiences as a university leader and professor.

To learn more about White and the other candidates for provost or to share your thoughts with the search committee, visit a special web page dedicated to the search.