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Provost sets down Kansas roots, articulates a... GLOBAL OUTLOOK

New Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere took office this summer. As he begins his first academic year at KU, he took time to answer questions submitted from around campus.

You came here from Texas. How are you finding life in the Heartland?

We are deeply touched that y'all have arranged for Texas weather the past few weeks, but we are looking forward something a little cooler, please.

At the end of the week, after continuing the tradition of excellence at KU, what do you do to kick back?

I haven't really had much time to kick back since we arrived in Lawrence. When we do get a little time, (wife) Jan and I enjoy being outdoors. We are looking forward to doing some fishing in Kansas.

Five years from now, what do you hope will be your top two accomplishments as provost?

If KU has a truly first-class information technology infrastructure, has a new, effective admissions regime that only admits students capable of succeeding here (but looks at more than test scores and GPA for evidence) and understands its rightful role in the national and international research arena five years from now, I will be a happy provost.

Your professional service reflects strong international ties and you speak French and Hindi. What does KU need to do to prepare students for today's global economy?

I was deeply impressed at my first Board of Regents meeting when Nelson Galle, the chairman of the board, challenged us to make it possible to give every single student at KU a study abroad experience. I can think of nothing that would be more effective at preparing students for the global economy in which they will be working.

What experience do you have in promoting diversity and equal opportunity?

I have had considerable – successful – experience as dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas-Austin. Because of the commitment and vision of the faculty, we hired more African-American faculty during my time as dean than any other dean in the history of the institution. The challenge for everyone in higher education is the pipeline into our institutions. They are very leaky in some sectors of our society. There is good evidence that we begin to lose students in the third grade. This is a problem larger than KU, but we need to do what we can at both the theoretical and the practical levels to find remedies for these phenomena. KU needs to insure that our faculty and our student body bring the widest range of perspective and experience possible to our inquiries. Universities sometimes – no, often – neglect to think about this when looking at the credentials of the people they hire. Race, ethnicity, gender, social class, life experience, etc. can all be additional values that we should cconsider from the perspective of how these qualities can enrich our research and teaching.

Humanities/social sciences research doesn't receive as much attention or funding as the life sciences, etc. How important is this aspect of research to you personally and to KU?

I am not convinced that the humanities and social sciences don't receive as much attention. It is true that they don't receive as much funding, but amounts of funding are not always conclusive indicators of value.

One of the mistakes that the humanities and social sciences have made is that they have bought into the physical sciences model of valuation of research. This is a pet peeve that requires more time and space than we have available here, but one I look forward to discussing with our colleagues. It is important to remember that places like KU need to provide the tools and resources necessary for our scholars and scientists to do their work. If one person needs $2 million worth of equipment to do their work and another needs $2,000, are we so simple as to conclude that one project is 1,000 times more valuable? I would hope not. Does this mean that we have adequate funding available for the humanities and social sciences? Certainly not! The general inadequacy of funding for all types of research is a problem that faces us at KU in the same degree that faces all but a tiny handful of institutions of higher education. We at KU must find more resources to support the spectacularly talented faculty that we have assembled here.

At the University of Texas-Austin, you demonstrated a deep commitment to making a college education possible for students from various segments of our society. Do you plan to continue that work at KU? If so, how?

There is nothing more important to the quality of education at a major research institution than a diverse community. In many conversations, diversity is often restricted to issues of race and ethnicity. Diversity for me means that and much more: diversity of socio-economic background, political views, life experiences, cultural values, etc.

The richer the mix, the richer the educational experience.

What is KU's role in economic development?

KU is a wealth-generating machine. Every graduate of this university goes on to make money, pay taxes and lead in his or her community. Their contributions are hard to measure precisely, but they are large. We are also working on streamlining the relationship between our best and most productive research labs and those who are able to effectively take intellectual property to market.

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, in its 2005 "blue ribbon" report, Time to Get It Right: A Strategy for Higher Education in Kansas City, stated "Kansas City needs a world-class research university" and concluded that KU-Lawrence does not serve that function. (Neither does KUMC or UMKC.) How do you feel about that conclusion, and what might you do to address it?

I disagree with that conclusion of the panel. The report gives the example of Princeton not being "the world class university" of New York City. This is specious reasoning. From sitting at my desk on the Lawrence campus to sitting down in the office of the dean of the Medical Center in Kansas City takes 45 minutes. It takes longer than that to drive across town in Austin, Texas. Surely, in this moment of blindingly fast changes in communication, the mere 40 miles between Lawrence isn't an inhibition to our contributing to the flourishing of Kansas City.

Some universities provide free tuition to the children of full-time faculty and staff members. Would it be possible for KU to provide this benefit?

If I could wave a magic wand, tuition would be eliminated for every student, not just for the children of the immediate KU family. Not having a magic wand, we are constrained by the realities of our financial environment. I don't know what the financial cost of free or reduced tuition for children of KU faculty and staff would be for KU, but I know that this is a significant burden for our colleagues at private universities. Given what I know about the current fiscal situation at KU, it seems unlikely that we will be able to offer this benefit.

Do you foresee the development of a new strategic plan, including clear goals and objectives, for the university?

One of the reasons that I took this job was to be able to work with – and learn from – Bob Hemenway. When I took this job, I got congratulatory notes from a number of people who commented on how lucky I would be to be working with a person whose reputation among his peers is so high. His understanding of KU and its place in higher education is completely coincident with mine. As for the goal and the plan – there isn't much that is new or unclear: The goal is to be the best university that we can be. The strategic plan is to hire the finest faculty possible and give them what they need to succeed.

How will you connect with various groups to gain feedback on some problem areas and to facilitate moving forward to continue to improve campus life for all?

This is a continuous challenge given the number and range of interests at a place like KU. I intend to use the structures of student and faculty governance as vectors of information and feedback, but I also highly value the opportunities to learn that come from individuals who contact me directly with suggestions and ideas. One of the great things about a community like this is the high concentration of smart people who are capable of generating ideas to solve problems.

What is the biggest challenge at KU and how will you address it?

It is still early days for me to give a definitive answer to this question, but one of the things that has struck me repeatedly is how much better this place is than the KU community appreciates. This is a world-class university with research programs that are internationally famous. We need to be a little less self-effacing about who we are.

Will you review the salaries of unclassified professional staff as compared to salaries for those holding comparable positions in the private sector, and if so, when?

Market forces are always at work, and universities are not immune from those forces. The continuous challenge is to find new money to keep pace with those forces.

The Board of Regents, legislature and other appointed and elected officials have a great impact on KU. What are some of the ways you anticipate working with them and influencing them?

I am in the process of meeting these various officers, and I must say that I have been deeply impressed by the high level of commitment and concern for the well being of KU. We often hear laments about funding from legislatures in terms that personalize the matter – terms that make it appear that all would be well if only "those people" would "fix it." Life is, as usual, more complicated than that. We are in a moment in our cultural history when the huge social value of higher education is taking a back seat to other issues like health care. The notion that government is the enemy also is in ascendancy at the moment. I am optimistic that we will see a shift in these attitudes and sooner than many think. I see evidence of this already in the willingness of many communities to tax themselves to enhance education. I have confidence in the good sense – and self-interest – of Kansans. We are delivering for them. The legislature recognized this in the last session and did some things that we badly needed to have done. There is great leadership capacity in this state.

What have you learned from our alumni?

I have learned that they are passionate about KU, that they care deeply about what happens on the campus and especially in the classroom. I have learned that they are generous and committed to raising KU's profile nationally. I have also learned that there are a lot of them!

Do you see a connection between the success of KU's mission and/or marketing efforts and its ability to retain qualified and loyal employees who are adequately compensated?

They are inextricably linked.

Are you planning to have a prominent role in fundraising, and if so, what might that look like?

Private funding is the margin of excellence for KU. The alumni base is strong and generous. I will do whatever I can to help them to understand how their giving makes the difference to our future.

Should KU actively encourage science and engineering faculty to be involved in technology transfer activities?


How do you envision the west campus developing during the next five to 10 years, in terms of research space and other academic buildings?

KU is very lucky to have the space available that exists on the west campus. The chancellor is working on a plan at the moment that articulates how we will use some of the space on the west campus. We will discuss this publicly when it is ready. I will say that it is an exciting vision and one, like many others that I look forward to working with the chancellor to bring to fruition.

What is KU's economic development role, in terms of staffing, other resources, and a "philosophy" about how this fits KU's mission?

KU has an important economic development role at a number of levels. The most fundamental is that every year we give to the world 5,000 new graduates who will go out and change the world. That, by itself, is a staggering contribution. We also work very hard to find the best researchers in the world to work here. Their work is of a fundamental nature, but often there are immediate commercial, industrial or social applications of their work that must quickly be brought into the marketplace. We need to be able to do this with speed and nimbleness and these are adjectives that are not often used to describe the working of major research institutions. We will constantly improve in this area.

Is it possible to have a rapid response (in the terms of funding) enabling schools and departments to increase faculty numbers in growing programs?


How will you select administrators who can engage and challenge staff without creating adverse working conditions? What will you do if an appointment does not work out, and how long should staff have to work under someone who is not working out?

Administrators are servants of those whose work is essential to the core mission of education and research. Our job is to make it possible for the components of the institution to flourish. When we fail at that we have to change. If that change involves policy, then we change the policy. If that change necessitates changes in personnel, then we change the personnel. Teachers and researchers are engaged in the primary work of the university. But they can't do their jobs without the effective and competent support of the staff who maintain the space, who provide the food, who keep us safe and who otherwise support the institution. The great thing about working at a place like KU is that every day each one of us contributes to one of the loftiest callings in history – creating new knowledge and sharing it with our students and the world.

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