Eastern Oregon prof eyes provost spot

John S. Miller, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Eastern Oregon University, appeared on the Portland State campus Thursday as the fourth of five candidates for the vacant job as provost — admitting he does not have ready solutions to the university’s challenges but feels he has the background to find those solutions.

Miller conceded he faces, as do all the candidates for the post, the crucial shortage of legislative financial support. But he left no doubt as to where he sees PSU’s role in Oregon’s higher education picture.

"It’s time now," he said. "Portland State has to be allowed to offer the courses needed for the economical and technological advancement of this area."

He predicted, "We may be moving more toward privatization."

The provost at PSU serves as chief academic officer of the university, setting and achieving academic priorities. The provost’s mission includes assisting the president to develop strategies that enhance the PSU mission and priorities.

The provost also must lead in increasing diversity of faculty, staff and students. The job also requires promoting research, teaching and community engagement. The provost must develop and maintain partnerships with other educational institutions and the community.

Miller told his audience there may be some academic areas better left to other institutions, in the interests of spreading resources.

He advocated a policy of "here’s what we can be the best at," and supporting that philosophy with available funding.

University growth, Miller said, has been identified as a necessity by President Daniel Bernstine, but as to how that growth may be structured remains to be defined. Miller predicted he might, if provost, ask for outside studies on the best direction for enrollment growth.

Miller reminded the faculty and staff at the forum that the provost faces the pressure of politics in helping get PSU programs through the State Board of Higher Education.

In answer to a question as to how he might coalesce different parts of the university, he advocated a recurring campus-wide review of the university’s mission.

"Higher education has pretty much remained the same for hundreds of years," Miller said. "There are going to have to be some changes made."

As exampled, he saw the potential for pre-college college courses for potential university enrollees and greater interaction with community colleges and the K-12 system.

Miller holds the rank of tenured professor of sociology at the La Grande campus. He revealed he needs to wear a number of hats at La Grande. He came to La Grande in 2002 from a position as dean of the college of arts and sciences at Southeastern Louisiana university, beginning in 1993. He had been associate dean of arts and sciences at the University of Little Rock, Ark., and had served on the faculty there since 1981.

The provost at Portland State also wears of the title of vice president for academic affairs, one of three vice presidents who report to Bernstine. The others are vice president for finance and administration, currently filled by interim Vice President Cathy Dyck, and Vice President for University Relations, Cassie McVeety.

The final candidate for provost, William A. Covino, dean of the Schmidt College of Florida Atlantic University, is scheduled Feb. 28 and March 1. All five candidates will have appeared in the month of February.

Christopher T. Hill, vice provost for research at George Mason University, came Feb. 7 and 8. John Wanat, provost and vice chancellor at University of Wisconsin, took his turn Feb. 10 and 11. Roy T. Koch, Portland State professor and director of the environmental sciences and resources program, answered questions this Tuesday and Wednesday.

After the final candidate visits the campus and attends a series of forums and meetings, the provost search committee will meet and make a recommendation to President Bernstine. No tentative date has been announced for a decision.

The office of provost had been occupied by Mary Kay Tetrault since 1999. She resigned in June at the same time as Jay Kenton, leaving the university without two of its three vice presidents. McVeety was appointed to her position last year after a period with an interim vice president.

There are personal qualities sought in the provost applicant. These include high regard for scholarship, integrity, flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity, respect for others’ expertise and experience and ability to listen and respond appropriately.