‘We need to pivot past our current trauma,’ Lejuez says as KU provost candidate

photo by: Lauren Fox

Carl Lejuez delivers his public presentation for the position of provost at the University of Kansas on Oct. 31, 2019.

Provost candidate Carl Lejuez said the University of Kansas needs to take a hard pivot from the traumas of the past to the possibility of the future.

“Why I’m here today is to tell you we need to pivot at this point,” he said. “We need to pivot to being strategic. We need to pivot to being data-driven. We need to pivot past our current trauma.”

Lejuez has been serving as KU’s interim provost and executive vice chancellor since the spring of 2018. When he stepped into his interim position, he implemented a $20 million budget cut that has decreased morale. But as Lejuez has said in the past and reiterated in his Thursday afternoon presentation in the Kansas Union, it’s what needed to be done:

“When I got into the provost’s office it felt very clear to me that what I needed to focus on was our foundational priorities. Our budget was not where it needed to be.”

Responding to a question after his presentation about faculty and staff members who are upset with what they consider poor pay raises, Lejuez said that “if we had not approached (the budget) the way we had, we would have zero (percent pay raises) again this year.”

In the first half of his presentation, Lejuez spoke about his time prior to KU, mentioning that he is a first-generation college student. He also noted that although KU knows him in primarily an administrative role, he previously served as a professor at the University of Maryland, and highlighted his research and scholarly work in that period. But he started to feel “complacent,” he said.

“There’s a sense that sometimes you’re doing the same things over again — and you stop failing,” he said. “You stop putting yourself into vulnerable situations.”

That’s when he started looking for administrative roles, and landed the position of dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU.

As dean, he said his two greatest accomplishments were expanding research funding through the research excellence initiative and increasing faculty diversity. He created the position of associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Lejuez said KU needs to overcome barriers such as trailing morale, rising costs, uncertain funding from the state and mixed perceptions regarding higher education. But in the next five years, Lejuez said he sees KU being in the top 100 in university rankings, advancing into the next quartile in the Association of American Universities, having more stable leadership and achieving a 70% six-year graduation rate, among other goals.

Of his leadership style, he said he strives to be transparent, include the community in discussions and hold himself accountable.

“I probably lead the nation in provost town halls, whether you think that’s a good thing or not,” he said, the crowd responding with laughter. “In fact, I’ve never heard of a provost doing a town hall they weren’t forced to do at some level. I like doing them. I think they’re important.”

Lejuez said he feels he can make the most impact on the university serving in the position of provost.

“There are things that I can do in this role that I couldn’t in others to make an impact,” he said.

Lejeuz was the second candidate of four to present for the position of provost. The first, Margaret Raymond, the dean of the law school at the University of Wisconsin, presented Tuesday. Next week, the final candidates will present Tuesday and Thursday, both at 4 p.m. Candidate names will be announced 48 hours in advance of their presentations.


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