Provost Garnett Stokes brings experience with faculty morale and Title IX

Stokes: “I also hope that we’ve built a more diverse and inclusive environment for faculty, staff and students, and that people look at what we’re doing and they feel good about where we are.”
Provost Garnett Stokes poses for a portrait at her desk Friday, March 6, 2015, in Columbia, Mo.

When Garnett Stokes arrived in Columbia as MU’s second female provost ever, she immediately noticed similarities to Athens, home to the University of Georgia, where she’d spent more than 30 years as a student, professor and leader. She was back in a college town and back in the Southeastern Conference.

“I feel like I’ve come home again,” she said.

Stokes entered the position Feb. 2 at a time when race relations, Title IX and faculty issues are at the forefront of discussion among students and faculty. She is responsible for overseeing MU’s 14 schools and the university’s academic activities and policies.

Stokes became a professor, department head and dean at Georgia after earning master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology there. She left Athens in 2011 to become the provost, and later interim president, of Florida State University. In 2014, she decided she wanted to become a provost again and looked to MU, which had been searching for a provost since Brian Foster retired on Jan. 1, 2014.

She said MU’s reputation as an exceptional research university attracted her to apply for the position. After receiving an issue of MU’s Illumination Magazine showcasing research with a “stunning” cover, she brought it to the Florida State Communications Department as an example for them.

She also said she was excited about the chance to be involved in community engagement, because it wasn’t a major part of her role at Florida State. She plans to tour the MU Extension sites throughout the state to become more familiar with the program’s role.

Stokes found out the provost position was open last summer, and she knew R. Bowen Loftin had recently become MU’s chancellor.

“I knew from the search consultant who was trying to get me to consider applying that this was a place that was really trying to rise within the (Association of American Universities),” she said. “That fit the kind of thing that excites me, that motivates me.”

After expressing interest to the search consultant in September, Stokes visited campus in November for an open forum with faculty, staff and students. She said Loftin left her a message in late November asking to schedule a time to talk with her.

“We talked about his desire to offer me the position,” Stokes said. “I was very, very happy about it.”

Her husband Jeffrey Younggren, a forensic psychologist who works on felony cases for the Department of Defense and a retired U.S. Army colonel, said Stokes told him about the offer over the phone while he was working on a trial in Germany.

The two of them first met on an accreditation committee for psychologists about 10 years ago. They said they enjoy traveling to visit their children, from Younggren’s previous marriage: Brad, an emergency medicine physician in Seattle, and Beth Ann, a medical malpractice defense attorney in Redondo Beach, California.

Younggren said he admires the steps Stokes has taken in her career, from professor to interim president.

“I jokingly refer to myself as ‘arm candy,’ because I go along and watch all this happen,” he said. “Life has worked well for her, and for us. Our lives are very happy at this juncture.”

Stokes said she likes to spend her limited free time outdoors and was attracted to Columbia’s opportunities for hiking and biking. Between leisure, work and family, Younggren said the two of them have to work hard to find balance in their relationship.

“We both are accomplished professionals so we’re moving all the time, but when we’re together we reserve that time to be together,” he said. “We spend time home cooking dinner and watching TV. There is some privacy that we create that offsets all that stuff that’s going on.

“I can truly say that Garnett is my best friend. We have a loving, supportive family. It gets busy and there are times where it’s moving pretty fast. Those are the times where we stop and take a breath and make sure we have everything organized. Life is good for us. We’re very happy to be here.”

Click to enlarge graphic. Scott MacDonald/Graphic Designer

Settling in

Stokes said that she’s been warmly welcomed since starting the position on Feb. 2 — and also “coldly welcomed,” with much colder weather than in Tallahassee, Florida.

“It’s been impressive the way we’ve been really welcomed here,” Younggren said. “People have literally bent over backwards to make sure that things have worked for us and that the transition is as easy as possible.”

Stokes said she has spent much of her time meeting with college and department leaders to figure out which areas to prioritize. She said faculty concern about salaries is one of the most important issues she has observed at MU.

“Trying to figure out, with limited resources, how to really effectively compensate our faculty and staff is a pressing issue,” she said. “We are clearly wanting to move up in the AAU and the metrics for the AAU, and that has involved trying to do some significant faculty hiring. That is a blessing to be able to do that, but it’s also a challenge.”

She said hiring new faculty creates a discrepancy in salaries because the university recruits faculty at job market rate, which is often higher than the salaries current faculty receive. Many faculty took the voluntary separation plan option last fall, which led to another challenge: finding new professors to teach.

“We’re juggling our resources to make sure that we can keep our students on schedule for graduation and try to remove those barriers to getting those courses that our students need to actually progress in their majors,” she said.

Stokes said the issue of salaries and raises is so large that the solution will need to involve a long-term plan.

“I think we’re going to have to engage in some long-term planning for addressing that, because to move up in the AAU metrics, we not only need to recruit new faculty, we need to reward our faculty that are really contributing to the mission of MU,” she said.

Provost Garnett Stokes poses with her husband Jeffrey Younggren.Courtesy of Jeffrey Younggren

Gauging the faculty climate

Faculty morale has been a recent issue at MU, specifically with [discrepancies in faculty raises](link to story when uploaded) revealed by a Faculty Council committee’s recent report.

Stokes said she plans to tackle this issue by starting discussions with faculty members.

“I think you get a much fuller picture by going to where people are and spending some time listening to what’s on their minds,” she said. “The goal of these visits is really to figure out what those plans should be.”

In her open forum in November, Stokes discussed her experience in faculty management. She said she hired over 100 faculty members as a dean at Georgia and made counteroffers to keep valuable faculty at the university.

At Florida State, she worked with a committee to increase the base salary of faculty who received awards recognized by the AAU. She said the humanities had the largest number of faculty who received awards.

“AAU cares about having universities with exceptional programs and areas,” Stokes said. “Those exceptional programs can exist in the humanities just as much as they can in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Neither Florida State nor Georgia is in the AAU, an organization of leading research universities. MU has been a member since 1908, but university officials have expressed concerns about MU’s standing within the AAU. In 2011, 61 of its members voted to boot the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Syracuse University from the association. Nebraska’s then-president Harvey Pelman blamed the ouster on AAU’s own reviewing membership.

A role model for women in leadership

Anne Blankenship, associate vice president for academic affairs at Florida State, remembered a specific time Stokes showed compassion as a leader.

“We had a coworker who was very ill ... and she took a great deal of time to reach out to that person, who eventually died of cancer,” Blankenship said. “No matter how busy times might be, she didn’t lose sight of the individual consequences on any level.”

She also personally mentored faculty to help them advance their careers. Penny Gilmer, a retired chemistry professor at Florida State, worked with Stokes for two years on a grant from the National Science Foundation to advance women in STEM fields.

Gilmer said Stokes was influential in developing mentoring workshops to help female faculty get promotion and tenure. They participated in “speed mentoring,” where assistant or associate professors rotated between Stokes and 15 to 20 other mentors to learn how to advance their careers. Several of the women who met with Stokes at the workshops were soon promoted in their departments, Gilmer said.

“It wasn’t just that they shouldn’t have been promoted, it was that they should have been and they were being held back,” Gilmer said. “There was also more recruitment of women faculty.”

Gilmer said the best quality of Stokes’ leadership is that she listens and then implements positive change based on the feedback.

“When we get women leaders, those ideas get incorporated into the culture and more women see people as role models, then become leaders themselves and encourage other women,” Gilmer said. “By having women in leadership positions, it encourages young women, girls and faculty that are trying to move forward in their careers.”

Karen Laughlin, dean of undergraduate studies at Florida State, worked with Stokes to develop a new advising platform there, using the same platform as MU Connect. She said Stokes saw herself as a partner with the academic deans and supported her efforts to enhance opportunities for students.

“I felt that she encouraged us to innovate and look for new ways to deal with things and support a good proposal that was brought to her,” Laughlin said. “From my perspective, she was very focused on student success, but I think she was also aware of the research mission of the university and how important that is.”

Laughlin recalled attending an Association for Public and Land Grant Universities luncheon with Stokes that was designed to support female administrators in higher education.

“I found her encouragement and her participation in that group inspiring and motivating,” Laughlin said. “It was very memorable to see her and be there with her as somebody who is definitely making her mark as a woman in the higher education field.”

Moving forward with Title IX

Stokes became Florida State’s interim president on April 2, 2014. On April 3, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Florida State was under investigation for possible Title IX violations following sexual assault allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston. Stokes said the experience taught her about the importance of communication with everyone on campus.

She said paying attention to current national and campus conversations is key to addressing Title IX concerns at a university.

“I think what I bring is a real dedication to trying to do this right and to make MU a national leader in the ways in which we engage our students, faculty and staff in addressing issues of sexual misconduct, sexual violence and assault,” she said. “Having the students involved in that is really crucial.”

At Florida State, she created a position that oversees Title IX policies and reports directly to the provost, Stokes said. MU recently hired its own Title IX Administrator, Ellen Eardley, who will take office April 20 to replace interim coordinator Linda Bennett. The full-time position was created in June 2014, when Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin publicly acknowledged the need to improve how the university handles sexual assault cases. Earlier in the year, UM System President Tim Wolfe had ordered university chancellors to comprehensively review campus sexual assault policies.

“MU has really been engaged in some of the very same things that we were doing at Florida State,” Stokes said. “Really, here at MU, we’re a little bit ahead.”

Stokes said her experience as an interim president helps her understand the various issues administrators deal with in the scope of the whole university.

“The chancellor loves the fact that I was an interim president because, and he consistently (says) the words, ‘She feels my pain,’” she said. “I think it helps a chancellor to have a provost who understands what he or she is dealing with.”

Provost Garnett Stokes partakes in the Florida State Ice Bucket Challenge. Courtesy of Jeffrey Younggren

Leading the conversation on diversity

Stokes has experience with initiatives that improve diversity and plans to continue taking action to improve it at MU. She chaired a committee at Florida State that focused on recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and building an inclusive environment.

“I come into this position recognizing that there’s an ongoing conversation and wanting to be a leader in that conversation, and wanting to put some things in place that reflect best practices for building and supporting diversity and inclusion,” she said.

The campuswide Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) survey conducted in 2012 revealed that faculty of color were significantly less satisfied than other faculty. Stokes said she believes there are issues of providing sufficient support for people who feel isolated, which is one reason she said she’s working with Loftin on diversity initiatives.

“I don’t know at this point the extent to which our faculty of color have been engaged in conversations on the campus level about what their concerns are,” she said. “That is something that I would like to do.”

Faculty Council created a committee earlier this year to specifically investigate and improve race relations on campus. MU has also hosted open forums on race relations for students, faculty and staff to discuss campus concerns.

Stokes said diversity is a high priority for both her and Loftin, and she has already been in discussions with people working with the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.

“What I plan to be is actively engaged in the conversations that are taking place on campus,” she said. “I am actively going to work with our deans to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion.”

Budget-related issues

Stokes said balancing quality education with affordability is a challenge faced by every research university in the country. She said she is working with Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain to figure out how to invest in giving students a 21st-century education in the various departments.

Spain has been working on a report with junior Gunnar Johanson on MU’s rising tuition and declining state funding for higher education. In its Feb. 5 meeting, the UM System Board of Curators voted to raise tuition for the 2015-16 school year by 3 percent for nonresidents and 0.8 percent for Missouri residents.

“We spend a lot of our time looking for greater efficiencies,” she said. “When you look in virtually any office on campus, they’re focused on ways to leverage the funds that they have to ensure that we maintain a quality education.”

Stokes said a variety of factors will affect which of MU’s many facilities in need get funding for renovation, such as the seriousness of the need, how much it impacts students and faculty and the interests of donors.

Vision for MU’s future

Stokes said she hopes to focus on a number of goals, such as faculty development and creating a successful faculty hiring initiative. She also hopes to support student research programs and activities that will prepare them for their lives after MU, as well as raising retention and graduation rates.

“There are several needles I’d like to see (move) on the research side, on the student success side, and that is what I hope I can accomplish,” she said. “I also hope that we’ve built a more diverse and inclusive environment for faculty, staff and students, and that people look at what we’re doing and they feel good about where we are.”

Stokes said she’s not thinking about becoming a chancellor right now — after all, she made the decision to become a provost again after being interim president.

“I am fully committed to doing the things that I came here to accomplish with Chancellor Loftin,” she said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but right now I just need to pay attention to what I’m doing here.”

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