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Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interim provost enjoys balancing dual roles

August 20, 2009

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Kansas University’s interim provost has risen quickly through the ranks of academic administration to his current position.

Danny Anderson’s goals include working with Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to ensure she’s up to speed on all the current issues facing the university.

But before all that, Anderson grew up in Texas and came to KU after studying Spanish at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He said he was attracted to KU because of its high-ranking program and earned his master’s degree in 1982, followed by a doctorate three years later.

He joined the KU faculty in 1988 and has delved deeply into 19th- and 20th-century Latin American literature.

Vicky Unruh, professor and chairwoman of KU’s department of Spanish and Portuguese, joined the faculty at nearly the same time Anderson did. She said Anderson is recognized as an expert in the field in both the United States and Mexico.

So much so, in fact, that in Mexican author David Toscana’s “Dueblo por Miguel Pruneda,” there’s a KU professor named Danny Anderson who plays a role in the book.

The character gets murdered, Anderson said, smiling.

For years, Anderson said he spent much of his day, including teaching and advising students, speaking Spanish. He has used Spanish on tours of the state, helping to make KU’s case to non-English speaking parents of prospective students.

“The impact of Mexico on the state of Kansas is something that might not be apparent to many people,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he always has enjoyed his teaching, but administrative roles have given him an opportunity to have an effect on programs that he feels benefit students and the university as a whole. He has risen quickly, serving as department chairman in 2000 until being hired by newly minted liberal arts dean Joseph Steinmetz as the associate dean for interdisciplinary programs and area studies centers in 2006.

He received a promotion to vice provost for academic affairs in 2008 before being named the interim provost following Provost Richard Lariviere’s departure to the University of Oregon. Initially, Steinmetz was named as the interim provost, but he, too, has since left KU to Ohio State University.

Anderson has said he’s not worried about all the turnover, as change in leadership is relatively common in higher education. Still, continuity has been a goal of his throughout his time as interim provost. He has frequently worked on many of the same projects that have been ongoing, he said, and he has communicated frequently with the Kansas Board of Regents in his previous roles.

He said he’s always believed students should think globally and gain multiple perspectives. He has served as the interim director of the Center for Latin American Studies and has overseen other internationally focused programs in his administrative roles.

“We need to encourage a student to be actively making a choice to think beyond what’s happening in the classroom,” he said.

As a department chairman, associate liberal arts dean and as a vice provost, Anderson has pushed for opportunities such as service learning programs. At the same time his students would read cultural texts, they might also be undertaking projects that benefit Latinos in the community, Unruh said.

He’s also advocated for a new way of looking at admissions processes — he said the university should try to look beyond test scores and other traditional data to see if there are other qualities that it might want to assess in trying to determine if a student will be successful at KU.

He praised the Kansas Board of Regents and the Legislature for giving control of admissions back to the regents so that the decisions might be possible.

In the future, KU students could be evaluated on criteria such as leadership ability, creativity and understanding in conducting research, and global awareness and breadth of thinking.

Unruh said thinking outside of the box in a creative manner always has been a strength of Anderson’s. She said he always was in tune with the latest theories on education.

“While the rest of us are still chewing on the latest development, Danny’s ahead of the course,” Unruh said. “He’s been one of the biggest innovators in the department.”

She said that will likely give Anderson a leg up as he sits in the provost’s chair during a time of difficult budget turmoil. As state revenue dwindles, the university has already cut some jobs and is freezing others.

Furlough policies have been discussed for university workers, though Anderson said it’s too early to tell if it will be necessary to implement temporary work stoppages.

His experience has led him to understand much of how a university has to operate in difficult times, he said.

“I think I understand the kinds of questions my colleagues have about certain decisions,” Anderson said. “And I hope to be able to explain these kinds of decisions.”

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