Open Forum for provost candidate Michele Wheatly

The former West Virginia University provost stressed the importance of student feedback and increasing faculty loyalty at MU.

MU hosted an open forum for Michele Wheatly, a candidate for executive vice chancellor and provost, to speak to faculty and students Thursday.

The forum opens the final stretch in a search ongoing since former Provost Brian Foster retired Jan. 1.

After a brief introduction by English professor Elizabeth Chang, a member of the search committee, Wheatly discussed her academic and personal background.

Wheatly said after growing up in inner-city London, she decided she wanted to be a science teacher. She studied biology and later earned a doctoral degree in comparative physiology from the University of Birmingham.

Wheatly said she is more than just a science nerd, however, with background in many languages to complement her science education.

After years of experience in higher education — a fellowship at the University of Calgary, a faculty position at the University of Florida and a deanship at Wright State University’s College of Science and Mathematics — Wheatly became the provost of West Virginia University in September 2009.

Wheatly held her provost position until June 2014, when the new president of the university, Gordon Gee, hand-picked a new provost to fill her position.

Wheatly said she believes she would fit in well at MU because of her experience as a provost for WVU, which is also a major land-grant university.

“I don’t need to learn to become a provost,” she said. “I’m well connected around the nation. I would like the challenge of being at a better caliber institution, and I think this would be a good match.”

Although Wheatly has a background in science like Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, she said she recognizes the importance of appreciating faculty in all areas and disciplines.

Wheatly also said she believes creating researchers and students with interdisciplinary knowledge is crucial for the future of the university.

“We’ve got to develop a campus that is a caring campus,” she said. “We need to start thinking about pathways into different types of futures.”

Wheatly emphasized the importance of student feedback and participation in university procedures, calling students the “best teachers” for faculty.

“Students should be actively engaged and involved to the extent they can in the decision making of the university,” she said. “Our students are leading us through this technology revolution. Anybody who doesn’t like hanging out with 18 to 22-year-olds shouldn’t be working at a university.”

Wheatly also discussed Title IX policies and recognized the importance of educating everyone at the university about campus safety.

“We don’t have to have women protect themselves,” she said. “We have to raise a culture where men and women respect each other and everybody is safe.”

Wheatly said that while there is often a focus at universities on advancing in rankings and recognitions such as the Association of American Universities, she believes that institutions should develop strategies to move ahead.

“I don’t think one should chase after the ranking just for the sake of ranking,” Wheatly said. “If an institution wants to get into the AAU, it should change its behaviors to model what happens in AAU institutions.”

Wheatly said that from the short time she has spent on MU’s campus, she believes the most pressing problem at MU is faculty loyalty to an institution — creating a comfort zone and persistent status quo. She said she hopes to help position the university for change and be a leader for change at an appropriate rate.

Wheatly said she believes a more diverse faculty will lead to a more diverse student body.

“We have to create environments where people can be successful,” she said. “We want the university to be a place where all kinds of people can be intellectually challenged. If we don’t nurture people that are different, it’s all wasted.”

MU spokesman Christian Basi said there are several other candidates for the provost position. He said MU will hold a forum for each candidate and announce the candidate prior to each visit.

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