Provost candidate: financial future hurts morale

The search for a new provost and vice president for academic affairs continued Thursday with candidate John Wanat presenting to students and staff yesterday what makes him a good candidate for the role.

"What is particularly attractive to me is that PSU is a nimble place but it’s one that has made its mark," he said when asked why he’s applying for the position.

Wanat is the second of five finalists seeking to fill the post vacated by Mary Kay Tetreault last June. Currently, the provost position, which oversees all academic operations at Portland State, is held by Michael Reardon.

Wearing a gray suit and tie and prepared with knowledge of Portland State University’s history, Wanat briefed the crowd on the positions he’s held at various universities, focusing on his work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He spoke of his past experience with city-based campuses, referencing his ability to be able to work at Portland State University.

In addition to the usual statements of "it’s an exciting opportunity" and "it’s a good city," Wanat readily responded to audience questions about the university’s financial processes and how he would deal with PSU’s dim financial future and growing student population.

That financial future is a major source of the challenges he expects to face. "How do you maintain the morale of faculty and staff in the face of these issues?" he asked.

Wanat did not give precise answers to that question but did express his support for transparency and openness as critical hallmarks to aid PSU’s financial process.

Commenting that student life drives everything, he observed that PSU is an institution where large numbers of students come and go.

"Many students leave over reasons we have no control of," he said. "What you want is for them to leave with a smile on their face."

To do that, he said, students must feel secure that there is a safety net and a welcoming environment. Wanat believes commuting students need to connect on a social level, which is one reason why student life is crucial.

He spoke of diversity and what he called "the rich environment" of PSU. "You need to be challenged by the presence of other people who raise questions of you," he said, and believes in fostering diversity in terms of hiring and in terms of students.

"You need a sufficient understanding of the overall game plan," he said, and stressed "working collaboratively with students and staff to obtain a civil and supportive working atmosphere."

After arriving here Wednesday, Wanat walked around the city and said Portland reminded him of Barcelona, with the trees that lined the streets, the bricks, and the people walking in the temporary sunny weather. As for PSU, he said it’s an institution that’s on the move. "It’s imaginative and courageous… I find that very attractive."