Provost search: Mair discusses student engagement, diversity at forum

Provost candidate Bernard Mair. Photo submitted.

Provost candidate Bernard Mair. Photo submitted.

Carrie Blazina

KentWired Video

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Bernard Mair said if chosen as the next provost, he would bring with him experience as an administrator of higher education, comfortability with a large university and a history of engaging and interacting with students.

Maybe he could even be able to bring some warm weather from his current job in sunny Florida — just like Tuesday’s unseasonably high temperatures.

Mair, the third of four finalists to replace Robert Frank as provost, visited campus Tuesday and held an open forum for undergraduate students on the “Fab Fourth” floor of the library. He is currently the associate provost for undergraduate affairs at the University of Florida.

Mair kicked the forum off by talking about why he thinks Kent State would be a good fit for him.

“Kent State, I think, has a great vision for what it wants to be,” he said. “It has the foundation to continue to improve its educational mission, and I think this position is a great opportunity for me to be involved with a dynamic-growing, forward-thinking campus.”

He said Florida may have different weather than Kent, but both schools are large, research-oriented institutions. He said Kent State would be a better fit for him than a small liberal arts school — he likes schools with a broad scope of programs.

A student asked Mair if he would ever consider creating either a law school or medical school at Kent State.

“We have to be careful of how we manage our resources and not just build something just because, ‘Oh, if I set up a medical school, I would leave a mark at Kent State, and it would be the Mair Medical School,’” he said. “No, I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in what’s best for the university and for the people that I serve.”

Why should you care?

The provost is the university’s “chief academic officer,” as Mair put it, overseeing all things academic at the university, including curriculum changes, hiring of faculty and new program development. Students may want to know each candidate’s position in the event he is chosen to be the next provost.

Mair said he would promote meaningful research and in-the-field internships among undergraduates at Kent State, which are both things he has helped Florida create and improve.

The internship idea is especially familiar to Mair, who said he created a program in Florida’s mathematics department similar to Kent State’s political science department’s Washington, D.C. semester internships.

“This is what we need to be doing in every discipline,” Mair said. “ … The purpose of a university education is not to fill you full of facts … (it’s) to give you the tools to understand what you read, critically analyze them and synthesize them and create new ideas from them.”

Mair said he would also support increasing diversity among students and faculty.

“If we are a truly welcoming institution, we’ve got to project that message to society and culture somehow,” he said. “And we have to step up our promotion of our institution as a welcoming environment — to encourage people even to show up at our doorstep.”

Mair said he would work to engage students in university processes at Kent State. For example, he said even undergraduate students at Florida serve on search committees, and this communication between different levels of the university is something he would encourage at Kent State.

“It’s great how we can engage students in high-level decision-making processes,” Mair said.

Mair said he would work with students as much as possible because it’s a part of his job he enjoys.

“The greatest thing about being in the university is feeling that you’re always 18 years old,” Mair said. “Being able to communicate with young people is one of the best things in the university. It’s a perpetual youth, … it keeps me having a positive outlook on life.”

The provost finalists’ campus visits will conclude with Todd Diacon, the deputy chancellor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He will hold an undergraduate forum Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to noon on the “Fab Fourth” of the library.

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected].