Final KU provost candidate emphasizes listening, personalized learning

Barbara Bichelmeyer, a candidate for the University of Kansas provost position who currently serves as provost of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, gives a presentation at the Adams Alumni Center on Nov. 7. Bichelmeyer was announced as KU's new provost on Dec. 6, 2019.

University of Kansas provost candidate Barbara Bichelmeyer said Thursday that if she got the job, she would first listen to KU community members and then create and implement a shared vision for the university.

“I know that I don’t know very much about KU,” she said, noting that she’s spent the last few months learning as much as she could through conversations and research. “I have some ideas, but really, basically if I found myself as provost I’d be walking in and listening to you and learning from you and figuring out, ‘What does it need to be in the future?’ — collectively, so that we can all buy in and move forward.”

Bichelmeyer, who currently serves as provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was the fourth and final candidate for the provost job to give a public presentation at KU.

Bichelmeyer is a four-time graduate of KU — she earned undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, a master’s degree in educational policy and administration, and a doctorate in educational communications and technology from the university. She split her Thursday afternoon presentation into three parts: the challenges facing higher education, KU’s future and her background.

Bichelmeyer said one of the challenges facing higher education is that with the rise of technology and accessibility of information, people are questioning the value of universities.

People ask, “Well, why would I come to a campus at all when I can watch a Youtube video?” Bichelmeyer said. “Literally, they are asking that question. And again, they are asking because we need to do our part to help them understand that truly educational experiences are highly engaging experiences.”

To combat this issue, Bichelmeyer said KU needs to focus on personalized learning — “precision learning at scale.” She noted the need for universities to be more willing to accept and transfer credit hours from other institutions.

She also said KU needs to engage students to design their own experience.

In a moment Bichelmeyer later described as emotional, she shared with the audience that she is gay and that she struggled with suicidal ideation in her youth, two things that have since informed her goals in life.

“As I started to formulate what is my goal and what is my intention in life, it was to figure out how do we create a better experience for people so that they know that they matter, that their uniqueness is a gift, and that we’re here to support them,” she said. “It took me a while to be able to articulate that in that way, but my whole life journey has been down that path. So, as I’ve refined my professional and personal goals and aspirations over time, that’s kind of where I’ve led.”

Bichelmeyer also said that higher education is a public good, not a private good, and that while KU needs to maintain high standards it also needs to help build bridges to get students there.

Bichelmeyer ended her presentation by projecting a photo of her great-grandparents’ homestead from the 1860s. Mount Oread is seen behind the homestead, devoid of buildings.

“One reason I wanted to share that picture with you is because that was higher education 150 years ago,” she said. “This is what higher education has become. But in another 150 years, higher education’s going to have to figure out how it meets a different kind of need. And KU is fundamentally a place that has the capacity to deliver on that.”

Bichelmeyer was the last of four candidates to present for the provost job. 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 third, Dave Cook, vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, presented Nov. 5.


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