Kansas University’s incoming provost hopes to bring about changes at KU that will better prepare students for a constantly evolving world.
Jeffrey Vitter will start as KU’s top academic leader on July 1. In the time since his hiring was announced in March, he has visited the campus several times, most recently to participate in an assessment of KU’s administrative structure with two officials from other universities.
Vitter and Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, and Elmira Mangum, Cornell University’s vice president for planning and budget, last week.
The group looked at how KU can be as effective as possible, Vitter said, because universities are facing many different challenges.
KU is no exception.
“Of course, budgetarily, we want to be as lean as we possibly can,” Vitter said. “We’ve got to be much more vigilant in terms of helping enable collaborations and connections among the university because the world is becoming so much more diverse and connected and global.”
The sessions last week proved useful for Vitter in showing him some background on the university and its organizational structure as he prepares to help craft a strategic plan for KU.
When he was hired, Vitter frequently discussed his penchant for creating strategic plans, and touted his success in doing so at other institutions such as Texas A&M, where he served as provost, and at Purdue, where he was dean of sciences.
Strategic plans can be a good thing, said Barbara Phipps, an associate professor in the School of Education and KU’s Faculty Senate president.
But, she said, they have to be done right, with a focused approach combined with a lot of follow-through.
“I’ve seen it done poorly,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just a mental exercise and nothing really changes. ... I’m not expecting that from this provost.”
Vitter said his strategic plan will have as its base the three major task forces commissioned by KU’s chancellor to improve KU’s standing in research, student retention and its admissions process.
From those will come a set of goals that Vitter called “ambitious” and will aim to move KU forward over the next five years.
He said he viewed KU as a place that trained lifelong learners for the changing global realities.
“How can we better ourselves in terms of groundbreaking discovery that has real impact for our community, for Kansas, the nation as a whole and the world?” Vitter said.
He said it will be important to keep the focus on the plan, even as KU encounters distractions, including the recent turmoil in the athletic department.
“It’s clearly a week of all kinds of turmoil and uncertainty,” Vitter said, amid a potential major conference shake-up and a week that saw Athletic Director Lew Perkins announce his retirement. “I think if you take a longer-term perspective, you can focus on the tremendous things here at KU. We’ve got some great fundamentals.”
In addition to Vitter’s affinity for strategic planning, Phipps said she was also struck with his commitments to encourage outreach efforts in the local and state community, his goals to increase diversity on campus and what seemed to be an open, straightforward manner.
“Hopefully he tells it like it is,” Phipps said. “That’s something we all could appreciate.”