3rd provost candidate promises stable leadership, dedication to KU

The third provost candidate, Dave Cook, gives a presentation in the Burge Union on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

University of Kansas provost candidate Dave Cook emphasized in his Tuesday presentation the importance of stability, making it clear that he does not view the provost role as a mere means to an end.

“Provost positions tend to be a stepping stone,” he said, adding that it drives him nuts. “My background in organizational communication — my background in administration — has led me to this point where I want to be a provost. And I want you to know that. I want to be a provost at KU as well. I think stability is critical, and I think we need it now probably more than ever.”

Cook, the third of four candidates for the position, is currently serving as vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Edwards Campus.

In addition to his emphasis on stability, Cook said that his deep respect for KU — he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in organizational communication there — and his experience working at all three KU campuses have prepared him for the role of provost. Previously, Cook was an associate vice chancellor at KU Medical Center and an adjunct assistant professor at the Lawrence campus.

He also spent a year as an American Council on Education fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he studied and was mentored by the provost to better understand the role.

“I went there to study the role of the provost and got to learn all about it, so you might see where this is going,” he joked. “It was an incredible experience.”

Cook also cited his accomplishments as vice chancellor at the KU Edwards Campus, stating that he “walked into a situation where the campus was kind of fledgling a little bit.” Under his leadership, he said, enrollment at Edwards has grown by 30% in the past three years. He said he has also improved the campus’ relationship with the other KU campuses and has stabilized its finances.

Among the challenges facing higher education and KU, Cook highlighted three in particular: the public’s decreasing faith in higher education institutions, KU’s teetering membership in the Association of American Universities and the difficulty of supporting students in an ever-changing environment.

Cook offered some examples of how to combat these issues, saying that KU needs to celebrate its successes, tell its great stories, recognize and prioritize the needs of students, emphasize the importance of research as a means of increasing the university’s reach and prioritize outreach and community engagement.

“We have a big responsibility, I think, to serve the entire state of Kansas,” he said. “I think we get there through outreach, and I think we can get there through community engagement.”

With regard to strategic planning and the budget model, Cook said he thought KU was a little “backward.”

“The budget model needs to align with our strategic planning process,” he said. Currently, the university has a budget model but is only at the beginning of developing a strategic plan.

“I was the faculty member from the medical center who sat through all the Bold Aspirations strategic planning,” Cook said. “I went through that stuff, and it was exhausting and it was comprehensive. But I think good things came from it.

“I feel like we are right now limping a little bit into this thing, and I guess I would just tell you we need to get excited, we need to dream. We need to bring some enthusiasm to this.”

Cook was the third of four candidates to present for the position of provost. The first, Margaret Raymond, the dean of the law school at the University of Wisconsin, presented Oct. 29. The second, Carl Lejuez, KU’s interim provost, presented Oct. 31. The final candidate, Barbara Bichelmeyer, the provost at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, will present Thursday.


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