Editorial: Provost must be a voice for faculty, students

Representing all faculty members and improving all areas of MU academics should be the future provost’s main goals.

MU has been searching for a new provost since Brian Foster retired from the position in January. The provost serves as the university’s chief academic officer, and his or her responsibilities include working with MU’s 2,000-plus-person faculty, directing MU Extension and making budgetary decisions.

Needless to say, this is an incredibly impactful decision for the university.

Four candidates — Michele Wheatly, John Wiencek, Nancy Brickhouse and Garrett Stokes — have visited campus for open forums and spoken to faculty, staff and students. We have a few suggestions for these candidates on how to make their time as the new provost as involved and effective as possible.

We want to see the new provost be the champion of MU faculty. They should be able to efficiently communicate with members of the faculty and communicate their concerns to the rest of MU’s administration. We don’t want the provost to be a tool used by other administrators to “deal with” faculty members. They should work with and for faculty members so that they can create a healthy, successful relationship between the administration and faculty.

The university has been struggling with faculty morale and this should be one of the main problems the new provost addresses. One way to start is to listen to and advocate for faculty members from each school and areas of the university. A primary cause for the morale issue is that much of the faculty feel marginalized or ignored. Supporting these members of our university and keeping their best interests in mind will certainly help boost morale on campus.

Another step to take is addressing the inequality in compensation at the university. Foster created Mizzou Advantage, a program that provided much higher bonuses to high-performing faculty. The program has been integrated into the MU Strategic Operating Plan, which was launched last year at the end of Brady Deaton’s term as chancellor.

Under this plan, nearly every department gives 2 percent of its annual budget back to the university to fund initiatives like increasing faculty salaries and strengthening MU’s interdisciplinary learning and research programs](http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2014/7/8/mu-budgets-reallocated-strategic-plan/). While these programs have many ambitious goals, the way it distributes pay raises has helped create a pay gap among faculty.

Consider that administrators have much higher salaries than most faculty members, and that STEM programs tend to receive preference over liberal arts programs in terms of funding and bonuses. While focusing on rewarding these programs may help us maintain our membership in the Association of American Universities, that should not be the sole factor to consider when increasing their funding. MU should not be funding programs for the sake of prestige, but based on what is best for the university and the citizens of Missouri it serves. Addressing these gaps could be key to increasing faculty morale across the university.

Improving faculty retention is another important goal to keep in mind. We could potentially lose valuable faculty members if they feel that they are underpaid and underappreciated for the work they do. When the university begins to lose talented professors and researchers, its ability to effectively educate students and conduct vital research is in danger.

The new provost should also reconsider where the university’s immediate priorities lie. When students consider enrolling at MU, one of the first things that they should investigate is academic excellence. Attracting and retaining the brightest students from Missouri and elsewhere, as MUSOP aims to do, will only occur once our academics are as rigorous and rewarding as at our main competitors.

If we want to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century, then we must update our educational programs so that they can be taught effectively. The hiring of MU’s next provost is as opportune a time as ever to consider undergraduate curricula at the university.

As it currently stands, the general education system is often a series of hoops students have to jump through in order to take classes that apply to a student’s major. This falls short of the traditional goal of a liberal arts education, which is to produce thoughtful, well-rounded citizens who contribute to society in positive ways. The provost should help revitalize this system and ensure general education curricula are pertinent and meaningful for students.

The new provost should also work to create more involved and interactive learning on campus. In large lecture halls, students are typically passive in the learning process, as they simply sit and listen to a professor speak. We want to see MU be a leader by having more of its educators take advantage of modern technology and teaching methods to be creative, innovative and engaging in courses.

Overall, the focus of our provost should be to optimize all aspects of academia at MU. While the external prestige of maintaining our membership in the AAU may be an important goal, it should not come at the expense of faculty, students or academic programs. Whether it be faculty morale, classroom structure, the relevance of our curricula or representing faculty and students, the provost’s goal should be to improve MU in as many ways as he or she can.

Share: Facebook / Twitter / Google+

Article comments


This item does not have any approved comments yet.

Post a comment

Please provide a full name for all comments. We don't post obscene, offensive or pure hate speech.