“No magic bullet”

Roy W. Koch, a Portland State professor of environmental science who says he wishes he had applied for the position of provost when it was open in 1999, made his pitch for the job in forum sessions and meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

One of five candidates for the vacant job, his present faculty position is director of the environmental sciences and resources program, an undergraduate and master’s degree program.

Many of the questions he faced were directed to him by Nicole Browning, multicultural affairs director for ASPSU and a member of the provost selection committee.

In response to questions, Koch came out negatively about various pressure groups attempting to inflict special points of view about how academic programs should be run. He seemed disapproving of a proposed student academics advisory board.

"I don’t like to segregate out points of view," he said. "Get all the people in the same room to talk about it."

Koch took the same global approach to adjusting academic programs to what he saw as the continuing shortage of money.

He recognized the potential need for academic adjustments if funding makes it imperative. But he advocated looking at existing programs, program by program, rather than paring everybody’s budget.

"We have to look at some programs," he conceded. But he added, "Going across the board penalizes everyone."

Many of the questions focused on the fund shortage and he admitted the prospects with the present legislature are not promising.

"In the next biennium, resource allocation will be an issue," he said.

At the same time, he wants the university to grow and believes its growth is inevitable and crucial.

"More students create more tuition create more expenses," he said. At the same time, he saw growth as attracting more tenured faculty.

"I think there’s movement in that direction," he said. There have been complaints that too much of the faculty is adjunct faculty.

Koch was also asked his position on his office releasing details of the contract negotiations now going on with the adjunct faculty. He said such information is required to come from the union.

He faced the ongoing problem of student advising. This has been a sticking point at Portland State. President Daniel Bernstine has attempted to require advising for every student but some departments have resisted the idea on the grounds they are already overworked.

Koch took a somewhat different tack on this.

"I am continually disappointed in the lack of student interest in advising," he said. He saw advising as crucial in fitting the student for life after college. While conceding that some faculty are cool to more advising, he said he would promote the idea by trying to visit every department on the issue once a year and try to stimulate two way conversations on advising between students and faculty.

"We can mandate it, but we can’t make students participate," he said.

He reminded the forum that the university is highly departmentalized and one simple solution won’t fit every problem.

"We have to respect the differences in professions," he said. He would like to encourage and emphasize a faculty that is devoted both to scholarship and teaching.

"Faculty is supposed to disseminate knowledge as well as create it," he said, while admitting that department by department, "there seems to be some sort of local autonomy."

One of the audience members, a recent graduate who declined to be identified, lauded Koch as an environmental scientist. He praised Koch as "having no magic bullet" for solving problems, but a candidate "who wants to take a systematic approach. Having been his student, I don’t think you could find a better candidate."

Browning asked Koch how he might increase the number of minority faculty members. Koch saw this as desirable but, again, posing some problems. He would prefer to avoid the tendency to hire minorities at the entry level and to acquire more experienced minority faculty, "people on the way up." Again, funding was seen as a restraining influence.

Koch joined the Portland State faculty in 1982 as an assistant professor of civil engineering. He had been the interim director of the environmental program in 1999-2000 before becoming permanent director. His background prior to that was in hydrology research and engineering, for both governmental agencies and private companies.

On Tuesday, Koch met with students at noon and faculty and staff at 2 p.m. A second session for faculty and staff was scheduled today at noon in the SMSU browsing lounge. His Tuesday schedule also included a breakfast with Phyllis Edmundson, dean of the graduate school of education and head of the search committee. He had meetings with the committee, the council of academic deans, Cathy Dyck, acting vice president for finance and administration and others.

Koch said he requested an unscheduled meeting with Douglas Samuels, vice provost for student affairs, to gain greater insight into the student perspective.

Two candidates, Christopher T. Hill and John Wanat, have already visited Portland State. A fourth candidate, John S. Miller, provost at Eastern Oregon University, will appear Thursday and Friday. His appearances will begin at noon both days and will convene in room 236 SMSU. The fifth and final candidate – William A. Covino, dean of the Schmidt College of Florida Atlantic University – will be on campus Feb. 28 and March 1.

The five candidates are applying for the position that had been held since 1999 by Mary Kay Tetrault. She resigned in June at the same time that Jay Kenton, vice president for finance and administration, also resigned, leaving the university temporarily without two of its three vice presidents under President Bernstine. The third is the vice president for university relations, Cassie McVeety.

The post the candidates are applying for is specifically termed provost and vice president for academic affairs. The provost is the chief academic officer of the university, assigned to provide leadership in setting and achieving the university’s academic priorities. That responsibility includes recognition that an urban university such as PSU serves multiple roles and constituencies and the successful applicant must have experience in balancing those various needs.

The provost serves as a member of the executive committee and assists the president in developing strategies that advance the university’s mission and priorities. The position has other responsibilities. The provost must provide leadership to increase diversity of faculty, staff and students to build a multicultural community.

The position also calls for promoting research, teaching and community engagement. The provost is required to help develop and maintain partnerships with other educational institutions and the community.