Survey shows provosts, including Kent State’s, opinions

Alicia Balog

Inside Higher Education, a website for higher education news, surveyed 1,081 provosts to see their thoughts on topics that affect their institutions.

Kent State University provost Todd Diacon participated in the survey conducted by Gallup, a research-based consulting company, in September and was curious about the results.

“I think it’s interesting to see what other provosts are thinking,” Diacon said. “A few things surprised me, but nothing really bowled me over that was totally unexpected.”

Diacon said he answered the survey similar to most provosts – except on the subject of tenure.

Other topics included:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs):

“I think it is too early to tell what the impact of MOOCs will be, and I’m not sure we all agree yet on what MOOCs are and how to deal with them. … There’s a lot of hype surrounding MOOCs, and right now, I think our job is to sort of wade through that hype and figure out what’s real, what’s exaggerated, what’s possible, what’s not really possible.”

Using data to aid and inform campus decision-making:

“When we look at student success, for example, the first instinct here is to go and look at the data first. Where are the people not passing courses? When the people leave, when do they leave? What does the number of credit hours you take each semester, how does that relate to your success? And that’s already going on here when I got here. At a previous institution, we weren’t doing any of that, and I had to put together a team to start doing that.”

Preparing students for engaged citizenship:

“There are two approaches to higher education internationally. There’s the U.S. approach which is regardless of your major, you have to take something between 30 and 40 credits in general education courses – history, political science, philosophy, religion, arts, math, sciences. Then there’s the approach in Brazil and England does the same. And that is – you declare your major before you get there and almost 100 percent of your courses are in that.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of provosts favored a system of long-term faculty contracts rather than the tenure system. Diacon said he strongly disagreed.

“I think faculty need to have tenure as a protection for doing that research [on controversial issues], for reporting those results even when it’s unpopular,” he said. “Unpopular with the public, unpopular with their own administration, unpopular with politicians – because I think if you want to have free and meaningful and open inquiry and research you have to have those kinds of protection.”

Provosts were also asked about whether they expected their university or college to rely on adjuncts, or part-time faculty, more, less or equally in the future.

Diacon said that the reality is that there has been a greater need for adjuncts since the great recession. Although he isn’t against adjuncts, he said he would prefer – when hiring non-tenure track faculty – to hire full-time members because they receive university benefits and they are at the university all the time.

“They’re on campus everyday,” Diacon said. “They’re here year in and year out, so the students can rely upon them for letters of recommendation and the like.”

But he said in some cases, adjuncts make sense.

“In business, there might be a prominent CEO that will teach a course for us,” he said. “Well clearly that CEO isn’t going to teach full-time. But you take advantage of that expertise.”

The provosts also gave their opinions on whether they want to become presidents. According to the results, approximately 31 percent strongly disagreed with the idea while approximately 22 strongly agreed.

Diacon said he thought many of the provosts who disagreed may not have had any experience with dealing with the affairs of a president.

“My job as provost is to make sure you guys have the courses you need to take, make sure we hire the professors to teach those courses that you need, make sure that our academic facilities are the right ones,” Diacon said. “That’s very different from a president who’s out raising money for the university, who’s meeting with governors to press for the university’s agenda, who’s meeting with the board of trustees, who’s meeting with friends of the university.”

Diacon said he’d eventually like to be a university president.

“But if I finish my career as a provost, I’d be perfectly happy.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].