Last week, the three finalists for Michigan State’s open provost and executive vice president for academic affairs position virtually visited MSU for forums to discuss why they might be the best candidate.
The meetings were held from Monday to Wednesday with Wanda Blanchett, Antonio Tillis and Teresa Woodruff all visiting via Zoom to answer questions submitted by the MSU community.
Each candidate brings a unique background and set of interests to the role, so here's what each can do for the community.
Blanchett currently serves as the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, where she’s also a special advisor to the chancellor for academic affairs and a distinguished professor.
Prior to her time at Rutgers University, Blanchett served as an educator at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Colorado Denver, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Syracuse University.
She has served in various roles as an educator since 1997, when she started as an assistant professor of special education, according to her 31-page curriculum vitae, or CV.
Throughout her forum, she spoke about her experience in similar roles and what she plans to bring to the role at MSU.
"Another vision that I have — that is no different from what I think you think of as well — and that's an expansion of the research agenda,” Blanchett said. “You're doing a great job in this area and you've actually seen a doubling of your research expenditures from $350 million in 2008 to $700 million in (fiscal year) 2018. But as I said in an earlier meeting, we can and we must do better."
She added that as the real cost of conducting research increases, more resources should be exhausted to offset the cost of conducting "life-changing and impactful research."
When it came to diversity, equity and inclusion — an important topic to the university community and a question posed to all three candidates — she spoke about her experience in restructuring positions at Rutgers University to ensure people leading the push for diversity and inclusion had the proper authority needed to create changes.
She also noted plans MSU laid out regarding diversity, equity and inclusion.
"You've already begun to articulate a number of issues, certainly that you plan to implement in terms of policies and procedures," she said. "I see my job as being the leader for championing those kinds of initiatives within academic units, nonacademic units and other areas that report to the provost's office."
The candidates were also asked about how they would handle the changes the university is currently undergoing regarding COVID-19 and its lasting effect on students, as well as the possibility of greater technology use online.
"It's absolutely essential that we continue to recruit international students, it's essential that our faculty continue to work all around the globe,” Blanchett said. “One of the things that I've been very impressed with is how scholars from all around the world are working together everyday now in a context they used to not work in as we seek solutions to the COVID-19 crisis, so globalization is here to stay. You're already a global player, we can continue that and even expand it."
Tillis serves as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston where he is also a professor, according to his 14-page CV.
Before bringing his work to the University of Houston, Tillis taught at multiple institutions, including the College of Charleston, Dartmouth College and Purdue University. His role as an educator in secondary education began at Purdue in 2000.
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Throughout his career, he has helped engage in strategic planning, fundraising and other university-wide initiatives.
Tillis spoke about his experience in working toward diversity, equity and inclusion and how he would be able to assist MSU in advancing President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.'s strategic plan.
"We created courses working with the dean of the college at the time ... where faculty, members of the staff came together, created these workshops for students and it worked beautifully, and actually, one of those courses became a part of the curriculum at Dartmouth College," he said.
"All of this to say that recovery and healing is a lifelong process in the life of the institution, because unfortunately, these are not issues that will go away."
Throughout his forum, Tillis spoke about his point of view on strategic planning and how they should best be used.
"Strategic plans should be action items," Tillis said. "These actions should be actionable, you should be able to timeline them from initiation to completion, and you should also be able to go back a few years to see whether or not those that were not completed, whether or not they're still relevant relative to how the institution is moving forward."
He also said his experience at different universities could be a catalyst in the process.
"I know that you all are in the midst of a second strategic planning initiative and you've already begun it with President Stanley," he said. "My hope would be to come and to join those forces and to use the competencies and skills that I have acquired through strategic planning processes at multiple universities and to see how that can best assist in moving forward with strategic planning at Michigan State University."
The last finalist to be announced and to virtually visit campus, Woodruff is the dean of The Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education at Northwestern University.
Woodruff has worked with Northwestern University since 1995, where she began as an associate professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology, according to her 56-page CV.
During her forum, she spoke about her experience in research as well as in creating a council for The Graduate School to hear input and feedback from students, staff and faculty. The program was a part of a strategic planning initiative titled ‘Vision 2025’.
"Vision 2025 provides a road map for the evolution of graduate education in five areas, including structural stability, well-being, representation, equity and a physical hub for graduate students," she said. "My first priority was to create a new unit to coordinate external and internal communications to ensure that these actions had brought input and were as well socialized as possible."
She also spoke about the importance of leadership and people using their positions to result in the best possible outcome. When it comes to the provost's responsibility in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, she says it's up to them to help facilitate conversation and lead.
"I think one of the things the incoming provost will want to do is make sure we assemble in ways that allow us to have those conversations that perhaps weren't as easy to have when we were in different silos and different parking lots and had to move physically between each other," she said. "In some ways there is a new opportunity to reset the conversation opportunity spectrum to have those essential conversations."
A decision regarding who will be chosen as MSU's next provost is expected in either April or May, according to the university's provost search website, which includes further search updates.
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