Second candidate for Arts and Science dean position wants to raise MU enrollment, positive morale among staff

Jeffrey Roberts explained his past work to increase student and staff engagement at Purdue University, where he currently works as a chemistry professor.

Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey Roberts talks at Thursday's open forum in the MU Student Center.

The second candidate for the College of Arts and Science dean, Jeffrey Roberts, a chemistry professor at Purdue University, visited campus Thursday for an open forum.

Roberts has worked at public universities since 1990 when he was hired as an assistant professor for the University of Minnesota. Before Roberts was a chemistry professor, he worked as the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of Science at Purdue.

This is the second of four open forums the College of Arts and Science is holding during its search for a new dean. Another finalist, Nancy Goroff, a Stony Brook University chemistry professor, visited campus on Monday. The remaining two finalists will visit campus next week.

Roberts said that if he were to be offered the dean position, he would most want to focus on undergraduate education, specifically research. This is because MU is a research institution and he wants to remind the community of why undergraduates should choose MU, he said.

“Higher education is at a moment where we’re increasingly being scrutinized and evaluated according to the educational experience that we provide to our students,” Roberts said.

During the forum, Roberts shared several examples from his time at Purdue University to explain how he would react to situations at MU.

Roberts explained that research is “rapidly increasing” and said public research universities like MU can be useful in helping students make impacts on their community.

One of the ways to help students do this, he said, is by inviting them to join a “community of scholars.” At Purdue, Roberts did this by hosting a scavenger hunt for students. This allowed the students to both bond with one another and explore the campus.

Roberts shared one student’s thoughts on the event, who said he had never been to a particular science building and, because of the hunt, learned about the different prescription drug experiments on campus.

“I am absolutely convinced a comprehensive research university has the opportunity to provide a unique and the best learning experience,” Roberts said.

He also wants to address and respond to the decline in enrollment, he said. As an institution, Roberts would like to see more undergraduate students.

If more students choose MU, the reputation of the university both within the state of Missouri and nationally would improve, he said. Additionally, an increase in revenue from tuition would allow the university to focus on investments within the College of Arts and Science.

“We need to make Mizzou a destination of choice for undergrads,” he said.

German professor Seth Howes asked Roberts how he planned to increase enrollment. Roberts referred to his time at Purdue, when he hired a second recruitment officer and visited high schools around Indiana so that potential students could have a chance to personally speak with a dean.

“There’s no substitute for positive involvement,” he said.

While at Purdue, Roberts had his students put together a portfolio that displayed ways they learned outside the traditional classroom setting. He found this impactful because it showed how students are able to learn from experiences and how they can use their studies to express their own personal values.

One student he worked with was 2012 Purdue graduate and physics major Tony “Danger” Coiro, who developed a solar-powered motorcycle during his time at Purdue.

Roberts said that while this wasn’t what he envisioned when he first assigned the portfolio, it was a way to get students to fully accept the importance of “learning beyond the classroom.”

Saadiya Aswad, business administrator with the division of biological sciences, said most of her colleagues at MU don’t have positive morale and don’t feel excitement toward their job.

“We don’t work because we want to,” she said. “We work because we have to work.”

Roberts responded by explaining that he would like to increase staff appreciation if hired. Due to recent budget cuts, increasing salaries for faculty wouldn’t be the first solution, he said. However, at Purdue, he held an annual awards ceremony for faculty and staff. This helped remind those working at Purdue that they are valued and their work matters, he said.

Aswad said she thought Roberts addressed her concern well. She said staff morale has been the lowest she’s ever seen since she began working at MU three years ago.

She said she liked that Roberts addressed that raises aren’t always the immediate solution, but taking other steps within the university can help.

The next candidate forum will be held on Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m. in the Leadership Auditorium in the MU Student Center. The candidate's name, as well as a short biography and CV will be released 48 hours prior to the forum.

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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