|Final VP candidate focuses on opportunity|
John Sladek, professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Colorado and a candidate for the position of vice president for research and economic development, focused on opportunities for UND at his public forum May 18.
Sladek has been in his present position since 2007. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of California Lutheran University from 2006 to 2007. He served as vice chancellor for research and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Colorado from 2001 to 2006. At Chicago Medical School, he served as professor and chair of neuroscience from 1991 to 2001, and professor of neurology from 194 to 2001. He also served as an assistant professor of anatomy there from 1971 to 1973. From 1973 to 1982, he was at the University of Rochester, where he served as assistant professor of anatomy from 1973 to 1977, associate professor of anatomy from 1977 to 1982, professor of brain research from 1982 to 1985, Kilian & Caroline Schmitt Professor from 1987 to 1991, and professor and chair of neurology from 1982 to 1991.
In his forum talk, Sladek used PowerPoint slides to illustrate opportunities at UND. He said he was “impressed by the numbers” for grants, applications, and awards, all of which have increased. He said these are good trends, and tech transfer numbers are also rising. “This speaks well of the institution,” he said. He added that he is impressed by the people at UND, naming examples from UND Discovery Research Magazine and Dimensions.
He said that sources of support are comparable to similarly sized universities, and that 60 percent federal funding is quite good. However, funding for just 1 percent from foundations seems a bit low to him. He suggested forming relationships with foundations that could open doors to future funding, for example, the Alzheimers Association.
Awards by unit, he said, also look impressive, and have risen dramatically. “I am impressed, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a candidate,” he said.
Sladek addressed friction between the sciences and humanities, saying that he had followed the accounts of other candidates in the Grand Forks Herald. The National Endowment for the Arts, he said, has a $360 million grants budget, and can award up to $150,000, he said, citing a $20,000 award Notre Dame received for dance, $10,000 to Northern Michigan for a powwow, $30,000 to SUNY Buffalo for an art park, and others.
“I feel strongly about the link between arts and science,” he said, and added that he and his wife have endowed scholarships for students who major in the arts with minors in the sciences. He added that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $347,000 to Indiana University for North American endangered recordings, and said that UND could apply for such grants to preserve American Indian history and other initiatives. “I want to look for opportunity in all disciplines across campus,” he said.
Sladek said he is impressed that seed dollars are available at UND. “That can make a big difference,” he said, when developing a new program. Sladek said that he sees opportunities to develop more synergies on campus, to attract new companies, and to develop new and global initiatives. He said he would also celebrate successes, such as the grant Jefferson Vaughn received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to immunize cattle against mosquitoes. That $10,000 grant could grow to $1 million if the project succeeds.
Regarding economic development, Sladek said that’s where the government, university, and private industry intersect. He said North Dakota’s workforce is comparable to adjoining states, but the decreasing population, especially children, does concern him. It could counter an industry’s desire to be here, he said. He added that he’s impressed by the startups at the Center for Innovation, and that technology transfer is on the upswing. “It’s important to have components in place for economic development,” he said, citing, the workforce, technology, experts, and University resources. For economic development to take place, he said, you have to get the right people to the table. He cited several quotes from Yogi Berra, including “If people don’t want to come out the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?”
Sladek said he has experience founding a research office, which he did in Colorado. He has had continuous federal funding since 1974. He said he loves the creative arts, plays the saxophone, bikes, and enjoys the outdoors and photography.
He then took questions from the audience, the answers to which are summarized below.
One audience member noted that Sladek has a relationship with President Kelley, and asked how he would handle making decisions that the president wouldn’t like. Sladek responded that he has known President Kelley since they were both anatomy chairs in the 1980s, and have developed a good relationship. He said they got to know each other well when Kelley was dean of health sciences at Wyoming, and Sladek chaired the INBRE grant. He said he was impressed with Kelley and how forward thinking he was. He added that he saw leadership qualities in him then.
In a follow-up, Sladek said he understands and respects the chain of command, and would fully support the president. “I don’t see any difficulties,” he said, adding he has no intentions of moving up from vice president. “We have a good working relationship,” he said, and his job would be to find research synergies as well as private, foundation, and traditional support.
He would like to maintain a lab and continue his research, though Sladek said it might not be practical. From discussions, he said that it would take around a 125 or 150 percent effort. “It’s a big job,” he said. In a follow-up, he said has had a research lab since 1982, and had four NIH grants when he went to Colorado. He has had one new grant funded, and one is close to being funded. That grant is for Downs Syndrome research, for which he has a passion, he said.
Undergraduate student research is vitally important, Sladek said, adding he’s had several undergraduates rotate through his lab. He said it require buy-in to develop an office of undergraduate research, and it would be nice to provide stipends if grant money were available.
The humanities are the core element of any liberal arts institution, Sladek said. “This is a liberal arts campus that happens to have first-rate research.” Sladek said he supports the humanities and arts, and cited his daughter, who planned to attend medical school and took a photography class. “That one course changed her life,” he said. “She decided to become a photographer.” He said he would help humanities research by scanning available grants, promote local culture, and support artists in residence. He said he has an affection for the humanities. “I love history,” he said, “but I’m not good at it.” He said he would promote opportunities in non-science fields.
One faculty member said there is a need for funding time to write and think in the humanities. Sladek said he purposely didn’t discuss the service component of the research position because of time. He cited an opportunity to document the Native American culture. “Is the expertise and interest available on campus?” Regarding the interest in release time or summer salaries for writing, Sladek said it was the first time he’d heard such a request, but would be open to supporting it if he could find funding, as long as it would enhance the campus.
Regarding the intersection of faculty as scholars and faculty startups, Sladek said he supports faculty as scholars. If startups are a part of that, he would support them. Although many startups never reach fruition, he said, it is important to have that opportunity. He said his support would not overlook the academic mission, and would take into account how much time it takes to promote a new technology.
To a follow-up question on preserving the academic mission, Sladek said the vice president is not the manager of units. He said he could lead discussions and follow the leadership of the president, who has clearly indicated that he wants economic development. That, however, would not be a primary component of the University, and he would not expect less scholarship.
If he were to be named vice president, Sladek said he would spend his first 100 days being a good listener. “Inquisitiveness is important,” he said. “This is a large, diverse liberal arts campus with strong research and a visionary president.” He said he would learn about tensions, learn who’s who, determine interest, motivation, and synergy. “I would study the academy.”
Sladek said he was born and raised in Chicago, and is less interested in geography than academic mission. He said he tends to be an optimist: “Most Chicago Cubs fans are!”
Sladek said that many universities are led by scientists, including this one. He said that if he were to be named vice president, “I wouldn’t be the president. He sets the tone and vision. Vice presidents are campus leaders who implement the policies the president wants.” The vice presidents can only do so much, he said. “It’s the academy that drives the University.”
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621