Final provost candidate talks to KSU faculty

Kevin Kolus

Provost candidate Walter Harris Jr. speaks to audience members about his policies concerning Kent State. The question and answer assembly was held in the Kiva yesterday.

Sam Twaerk | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

The fourth candidate for senior vice president of academic affairs and provost described himself as decisive, caring and thoughtful in an open faculty forum yesterday.

In the Kiva, 35 faculty members questioned Walter Harris, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University in New Orleans, about the professional and personal strengths he could bring to the position. As chief academic officer, the provost is responsible for academics across all campuses.

“I have held a number of administrative positions,” Harris said. “It seems I have garnered a wealth of academic experience. I would bring all of that experience to Kent State.”

Faculty asked Harris his view on the evaluation process of pre-tenure track and post-tenure faculty. He said a bi-yearly evaluation process worked at Arizona State University, where he spent most of administrative experience.

“The purpose of those evaluations was to look carefully at the new professor,” he said. “That they were capable in carrying out the academic mission of the university.”

He said young, un-tenured professors are better off teaching to create “the personal (academic) profile to carry them forward.”

Another topic faculty wanted Harris’ opinion on was the expectations legislatures have for the cost of education at state universities. They wanted to know what Kent State should both change and keep the same to meet those expectations.

“First of all, I don’t think we can allow the legislature to direct the academic policy of the university,” he said. “People do look at the university as a source of problem solving. But education comes first, a majority of that being liberal arts.

“We want to be the shepherds of the academic values within the university. We have to then communicate that to the legislature.”

Worried about the retention rate, faculty members asked Harris how he would plan to solve the problem. He said at Loyola there was a task force dedicated to retention. Retention rates there were in the high 80s, and the average GPA of incoming freshmen was 3.71, with SAT scores in the high 1200s.

He said support services, such as writing labs and academic resource centers, are necessary to increase retention.

Harris said the data about Kent State are sometimes exciting and sometimes challenging. Retention rates, graduation rates and dwindling state support at Kent State is “not acceptable,” he said. However, the amount of respected programs at the university is what intrigues him.

“When I looked at the kinds of programs that are being developed and how many highly ranked programs there are in the university, that is exciting,” he said.

In an interview after the forum, Harris said the vote of no confidence he received from the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Loyola should not be a factor when being considered for this job.

“I hope that people would judge me on my record,” he said. “I have a very productive record in higher education. If I do say so myself, that record is very good and it would be good to have at Kent State University.”

Harris is the final candidate brought to Kent State for interviews. The search committee for senior vice president of academic affairs and provost is expected to submit its final recommendation to President Lester Lefton by Feb. 15.

Harris will be at an open forum with undergraduate students at 10:30 a.m. today in the Student Center Room 306B and graduate students at 11 a.m. in Room 306A.

Walter Harris Jr. — Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Loyola University, New Orleans

• Originally from Selma, Ala.

• He is a Presbyterian.

• As a teenager, he played piano at many civil rights events.

• Formerly a Senior Executive Fellow at the University of North Carolina.

• According to an October 2000 article in The Campus Echo, the student newspaper of North Carolina Central University, his musical tastes reflect classical and jazz with an occasional rap tune thrown in.

• When a new provost was chosen at Loyola University in 2003, faculty thought Lydia Voigt, sociology professor and chairwoman, should have received the position. “My strong impression is that the faculty (and staff) are very disappointed, if not outraged, that Lydia Voigt was not selected to be provost, considering she was the consensual choice of the overwhelming people I heard and talked to in our provost search meetings,” Anthony Ladd, associate professor of sociology told The Maroon, the student newspaper at Loyola University, in February 2003.

• As reported in The Maroon, tenured faculty members in March 2003 urged a vote of no confidence (later they decided not to) for president Rev. Bernard K. Knoth, S.J. after his appointment of Harris as provost. “The sole decision maker is Father Knoth,” said Anna Hall, former SGA president and music business senior. “He does take recommendations from the Provost search committee, but in the end, it is up to him to determine what candidate will have the most positive impact on the university. In this case, it was Dr. Harris. I’m sure Father Knoth did what he thought was best for the university. It’s too bad that not everyone can accept that.”

• He received a vote of no confidence from College of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Loyola.

• According to and The Associated Press, as provost at Loyola, he cut film studies, broadcast journalism and production.

• The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on March 13, 2003, that Harris was the first black to serve as provost at Loyola.

• Taught at Knoxville College in Tennessee, Arizona State University and North Carolina Central University.

• According to Log, a faculty newsletter at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, he interviewed there for a provost position in 2002. He also applied for the provost position at the University of Massachusetts the same year.

• In the Jan. 19 edition of The Maroon, it discussed Harris coming to Kent State for an interview. The writer, Daniel Monteverde, said: “If Harris was recommended for the job and accepted, he would leave the university amid controversy, much the same as when he came to Loyola in 2003. When the Rev. Bernard Knoth, S.J., former university president, announced Harris as the new provost, faculty voiced discontent about the decision.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].