Job candidate Kip Hodges said collaboration among faculty in different departments would be a priority if he became dean of Kansas University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Hodges, one of four finalists for the position, met with students, faculty and staff during a forum Monday afternoon.
Hodges is a geology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been a faculty member most of his 19 years at MIT except from 1997 to 1999, when he was dean for undergraduate curriculum.
Hodges said KU could fill a niche in academia by forming teams of faculty from various departments to collaborate on education issues.
"That's what attracts me to this position," he said. "The college is a large entity, but to do this right, we have to go beyond even the boundaries of the college."
The college would need to sponsor seminars to encourage the collaboration, Hodges said.
Hodges called Chancellor Robert Hemenway's goal of being in the top 25 of public research universities by 2010 and in the top 25 of all universities by 2020 "an attainable goal." But he said rankings by media and organizations which he called "beauty contests" aren't always the best measure of an institution.
"Most of those are out of touch with reality," he said.
Rather, he said, asking students about the quality of their education and analyzing the quality of graduate students applying to a department might be more accurate indicators.
Hodges said he sensed negativity from faculty and administrators about KU's budget situation, and the administration has made "very persuasive" arguments for increasing tuition.
But he said KU's funding is more stable than funding at MIT.
"It is a persistent myth that MIT is flush," he said. "It may be flush, but it sure can't keep its buildings running properly. At KU, the revenue stream may be lousy, but at least it's steady revenue stream."
If he is named dean, Hodges said he would likely end or put on hold his research, which focuses on the formation of mountain ranges and often requires him to travel to Asia.
Three other finalists will visit campus on March 4, 7 and 11. The search committee hasn't released the names of the other finalists, but sources have confirmed that Kim Wilcox, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, is one of them.
The committee hopes to pick a new dean by the end of the school year, with the dean beginning work July 1.