Provost candidate says PSU emerging as research institution

Provost candidate George A. Covino, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Florida Atlantic University, told Portland State faculty and staff Monday that he sees many similarities between PSU and his current institution.

"They are both growing, maybe too fast for some people," he said, elaborating by adding, "Florida Atlantic is similar to Portland State in that both are emerging as research institutions, poised to move to top tier status." Both are working under smaller budgets from their state legislatures and inevitably growing while operating under constrained resources. He believes he can help the university grow and prosper despite those drawbacks.

Covino will appear at an open forum today from 2 to 3 p.m. in Smith Memorial Student Center, Room 236. He is the final applicant of five candidates for provost, all men, who visited the campus in February. From here, the provost selection committee will submit a recommendation to President Daniel Bernstine. If the recommendation is approved, the university will negotiate a contract with the successful applicant.

The provost’s position has been vacant since last June, when Mary Kay Tetrault resigned. Her resignation came at the same time as that of Jay Kenton, vice president for finance and administration, leaving PSU without two of its three top vice presidential officers. Michael Reardon has been serving as interim provost.

The provost at Portland State serves as chief academic officer of the university, charged with setting and achieving academic priorities. The position includes assisting the president in developing strategies that enhance the Portland State mission and priorities.

"I would like to help take this institution to new, higher levels of achievement," Covino told his forum audience. He said he is trained in rhetoric and sees university education as a conduit for teaching "what it means to be an articulate citizen." He described his approach to decision making.

"I’m very much in favor of hearing every voice in a dialogue," he said. He doesn’t like to see decisions reached from entrenched positions and sees every policy subject to revision.

"Nothing is set in stone," he said. "We pause to make a decision, then snap right back into the dialogue."

In response to questions from the floor, he suggested that growth in student population could bring problems, and addressed "whether there should be qualitative criteria to address access to admission."

He conceded that some might say that because programs are funded based on growth, unlimited growth is beneficial. But some academic units of a college cannot do that. For qualitative reasons, some disciplines need smaller classes and smaller enrollments. He frowned at emphasis on "territoriality," calling such emphasis "pedagogically indefensible."

Audience questions recalled a faculty complaint that PSU has too small a proportion of tenured faculty. He described his system at Florida Southern. When he took over there, the faculty was divided into full-time and part-time. He created a three-tier system, full-time tenured, full-time untenured and part-time faculty in fixed positions. He consolidated a number of the fixed-term positions into full-time positions that "in time, can be converted to tenure line faculty."

In considering the effects of advancing technology on university education, he said, "As we come under budget constraints, more advanced technology can be built in." On the other hand, "More questionable is distance learning. Sometimes it can be more efficient, sometimes not."

He saw that one of the key issues facing the faculty at Portland State, comparable to many urban universities, is the question of becoming a "corporate university." He saw the question as a theoretical choice between "consumer good" and "social good."

His solution: "The public-private partnership has to be embedded as a social good." Corporate identification in the university must include enterprises integrated with the curriculum. Corporate partners must share educational values with the students.

Covino’s current position at Florida Atlantic takes him to five campuses. He has held his present position since 2001. He served as chair of the English department there from 1998 to 2001.

From 1991-98 he was associate head and acting head of the English department of University of Illinois at Chicago. Before joining the Illinois post in 1989, he taught at San Diego State University 1981-88.

The other four candidates are Christopher T. Hill, vice provost for research at George Mason University; John Wanat, provost and vice chancellor at University of Wisconsin; Roy T. Koch, PSU professor and director of the environmental sciences and resources program, and John S. Miller, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Eastern Oregon University.