Provost candidate Wiencek discusses diversity, sexual violence policy, AAU

Wiencek is currently the interim provost of the Virginia Commonwealth University.

The search for a new executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost continued Wednesday with an open forum for candidate John Wiencek to speak to faculty and students in Stotler Lounge.

Harry Tyrer, a Faculty Council member and engineering professor, introduced Wiencek, who is currently interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Wiencek answered faculty questions about various aspects of university leadership by highlighting the importance of communication and direct but empathetic confrontation. He said he has experienced allocating funds to various departments and restructuring budgets during his previous administrative positions.

“I want to communicate openly, directly and frequently,” Wiencek said. “I can lead by example and provide incentives for (faculty) to get together and talk.”

Wiencek said he acknowledged he is a white male engineer, and that maintaining a diverse faculty begins with recognizing disparities.

“The first thing you have to do is root out discrimination where it’s occurring,” he said. “You have to have an ecosystem with diverse, inclusive pools and make sure that your faculty is taking advantage of the activities that are here to support them.”

Regarding Title IX, Wiencek said he believes it is important for all faculty to be direct reporters of violations and be able to guide students through the proper procedures, which can be complicated due to various laws.

“Often in cases of sexual violence, the student is not ready to pursue legal action,” he said. “They just want someone to talk to and figure this out. This is a time of learning for higher education in how to handle things effectively. The reason we got here is because we ignored the problem for a long time. We need to help the victims in the best way possible and have a process that is just.”

Wiencek also discussed MU’s status as a member of the Association of American Universities, a current concern of university administration. Wiencek said he believes the university should not focus on the ranking alone, but the core value of excellence and working to help students and advance the human condition.

“We have to make sure we are a destination university,” Wiencek said. “Why shouldn’t we be number one? We should always be seeking the best of ourselves and pushing others to seek the best of themselves.”

Prior to his current position at VCU, Wiencek has held faculty positions at Rutgers University and the University of Iowa, as well as a deanship at the University of South Florida. He emphasized the similarity between Iowa and MU, which are both members of the Association of American Universities and large public institutions.

Wiencek referenced a CD by Trailhead, a local band, when he spoke of the time he spent at MU for an engineering program before earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He then earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D in chemical engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

Wiencek said he could see himself as a university chancellor or president in the future, but would not be disappointed in himself if that did not happen.

“I want to retire as a faculty member and re-engage with students on a more personal basis in the classroom,” Wiencek said. “I’ve realized that I have so much to be grateful for in the present. I try to appreciate what I have and make an impact where I am.”

Wiencek is the second candidate for the position to have an open forum, following a forum for Michele Wheatly held on Oct. 23.

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