|Kelley focuses on educational mission, philosophy|
Dr. Robert Kelley, the first of five presidential candidates to visit campus, focused on his vision of the educational mission and philosophy in his public talk Jan. 11.
He began by discussing his background, which includes degrees from Abilene Christian University and University of California, Berkeley, where he focused on cellular biology. He spent 28 years at the University of New Mexico medical school, then moved to University of Illinois-Chicago. In 1999 he was named dean of the medical college at the University of Wyoming.
Kelley said he believes the core mission of a university is the advancement of knowledge. “Students learn from and with us,” he said. “And as we educate students, we serve the state.” Kelley believes that the liberal arts are the core of a research university, and the critical thinking they teach connects with all schools and colleges across the university.
Regarding his vision of UND, Kelley said that as an outsider, it would be pretentious to say he understands the University well enough to offer a vision. Rather, he said, he would discuss his vision of a research university. He would take a hard look at that university’s centers of excellence – not necessarily legislatively defined centers – but the strongest areas, and would look at connecting disciplines to create synergy. For example, he would bring together points of strength such as engineering and medicine or law and philosophy.
The university must continue working for economic development, he said, and address enrollment and other competitive pressures. As we do this, he said, we must engage the community with a shared vision.
“I think all activities have to be linked to that shared vision to move forward together,” he said.
Regarding planning, Kelley said that President Kupchella has positioned UND extremely well. “This is a remarkable campus,” he said, and he hasn’t seen its like anywhere else. He commended facilities planning and said that the next step would be to refine the plan, build a vision, and move forward.
Kelley described his leadership style as flexible, ranging from legislative to executive. He likes working with groups to build a consensus and said that diversity builds strength into decision-making. He said he easily moves into the executive role and can make decisions, then move on.
He said that he’s approachable, likes meeting people, and sometimes has trouble “closing his office door.” He finds it an enjoyable challenge to work with legislators and the chancellor. Because he would often be away from campus doing development and working with members of the NDUS, he would need a trusted, experienced leadership team on campus.
“I like building things,” Kelley said, including academic programs, colleges, and complex systems. “That’s why cell biology is so fascinating. I still have that curiosity.” Kelley said he would find things that the university does best, and devote resources to those niches.
“It would be challenging and enjoyable to be president of UND,” Kelley said. He finds UND a beautiful place and said one of the things that interest him most are the people of North Dakota.
He then responded to questions from the audience, summarized below.
Regarding North Dakota’s declining high school student numbers, Kelley said North Dakota and Wyoming have a lot in common, including agriculture, energy, and their economies. At the University of Wyoming, they’ve developed an aggressive, creative, and successful marketing campaign. The “good neighbor strategy” reaches students in Colorado, which has a burgeoning population, and brings them to Wyoming with marketing, incentives, and tuition breaks. Kelley said that even though Wyoming’s high school population has declined, the University has not seen a corresponding decline in enrollment, which is approaching 13,000 students. He said such a program could have potential in North Dakota. Enrollment is one of the critical issues UND must face, Kelley said. “It impacts revenues, quality, and relationships.”
Kelley said that although he’s a dean who has not been a vice president, the University community should look at his career from the beginning, and that he’s dealt with breadth and complexity across the academe. He said he believes one of the most difficult jobs is that of department head, and that helps one see the bigger picture. As he rose through the ranks, he served on most university committees and has a broad understanding of complex organizations. At Illinois, he said, he worked with the NIH and learned more about research. As dean at Wyoming, he built up the college, built a new health sciences center, and worked across the university. “I’ve served in many ways across the university,” he said, “and my experience isn’t lacking.” It will take time to learn a new institution and avoid making mistakes in his first few months, but he hopes to hit the ground running.
In answer to a question on campus climate, Kelley said Wyoming has an ombudsperson who performs mediation and dispute resolution. It’s very effective, he said, and can often save time and money, as well as salvage relationships between valued faculty members. He said it’s an informal process, and he would favor such a position here. Regarding campus climate, he observed, “we use a lot of code words, don’t we?” At Wyoming he sat on UND’s equivalent of PAC-W (President’s Advisory Council on Women), where they addressed many of the issues UND faces, including finding ways to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups. At New Mexico, which is more culturally rich, he learned a great deal when he taught courses at a Navajo college and worked to find different ways to help people learn. “There’s richness in diversity,” he said. In the 1980s, he chaired an NIH committee which helped support research for minority institutions, and visited most of the historically black colleges to help develop a research infrastructure. A diverse environment, he said, equals better solutions to issues.
Regarding possible outsourcing of some services, Kelley said he has the deepest respect for longevity, and that loyalty is important. When his father retired from the University of New Mexico, he said it was almost like a divorce for him. However, he said, we also need to look at efficiency and cost control, and take a business approach to the university. “We can’t continue to increase costs,” he said. “The price of education is moving away from students’ ability to pay.” He said he would look carefully at ways to contain costs, and would hope to do so without enormous human cost, such as by not filling open positions. “I would hope not to outsource at the expense of loyal staff,” he said.
About the role of student leaders, Kelley said that students have served on most committees of which he’s been part. “Students are why we’re here,” he said. “They’re the integral core of the university, the catalysts that advance learning.” He said that as the focus of learning and as part of our mission, students should have access to us.
His fundraising and building experience include finding money to build a new health sciences center at Wyoming. When he was hired in 1999, the college was only 20 years old, with offices all over town. He was hired to build the center, and with another person conducted a capital campaign and worked with the legislature to obtain funding. “We failed the first time and succeeded the next year,” he said. They raised $20 million for a building that now holds the entire college. “I learned a great deal, and it was a lot of fun,” he said.
Regarding the relationship between business and education, Kelley said that some business methods are appropriate for higher education, especially those regarding fiscal responsibility. “It’s important to use sound fiscal management,” he said. “But I bridle at the notion of students as customers. Students are students, and they’re here to learn.” He said he’s a traditionalist who adheres to classic student/faculty language.
Kelley said he doesn’t think there is an artificial tension between the humanities and sciences. “Liberal arts are the core of an undergraduate university,” he said. That’s where students learn history, how to think and express themselves, as well as enrich their lives. He said that funding of humanities can be achieved by underwriting them and finding other ways to support and resource them. In response to a specific question, he said he would love to see a university symphony, which would become another point of excellence and enrich the community. “I would love to explore it and find the resources,” he said.
About the changing role of libraries, Kelley said his father directed the library at New Mexico. “Libraries have evolved tremendously,” he said. “The web has changed the way we learn.” However, costs have increased, and library budgets are stressed. He said that Wyoming has worked to develop a consortium to buy bandwidth, and he assumed there are similar issues here. We need to be creative in addressing stressors on libraries. Options such as consortiums, web, and outreach can help. He said at Wyoming, faculty are spread all over the state, and the university charges a fee for library access. He said they work to negotiate goodwill and explain why they charge, but they can’t afford to provide free services. “I like libraries,” Kelley said. “I’m concerned about them.”
Regarding flex-time and other considerations for overloaded faculty, Kelley said it’s an issue to study. It’s important to understand the metrics of faculty size, he said, and to realize that faculty work hard and need relief. At Wyoming, they compensate for overload teaching, but also face faculty burnout. He’d like to explore other options such as outreach, using libraries differently, and thinking creatively to provide course opportunities. Learning is different today, he said. We need to address faculty development and growth. “There is no silver bullet.”
About working within the University System, Kelley said that Wyoming is the only four-year institution in the state. “We’re the flagship and most of the fleet,” he said. At New Mexico, multiple institutions and branches gave him system experience. “The success of UND leadership will be based on the relationship with the chancellor, State Board of Higher Education, and the system,” he said. “There has to be a good relationship.” He said he has met with Chancellor Goetz and thinks they could have a good relationship. Regarding the state budget and economy, he said now is the time to receive a share of increased revenues. “The system and board recognize that and will fairly represent the universities,” he said.
In response to a question about non-academic support services, Kelley said that mental health, physical health, and wellness are central to the university. It’s important to fund these areas, he said, which are vital to the health and well-being of the university community.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, email@example.com, 777-3621