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UWF Provost Talks About Change And The Future

Martha_Saunders_med2014-195x278.jpg
University of West Florida
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Administrative changes should be transparent to our students and if they are good changes they should feel the lift. If we are doing our job on the administrative side then things are running more smoothly.
drsaundersfullinterview.mp3
Full conversation between Bob Barrett and UWF Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Martha Saunders.

Dr. Martha Saunders has been Provost of the University of West Florida since the beginning of 2013. Last October, she added the title of Executive Vice President of the University.

That change coincided with many other changes going on at the school. WUWF's Bob Barrett sat down with Dr. Saunders to talk about the changes and the future of UWF.

Dr. Saunders said the title of Executive Director is not new. When Dr. John Cavanaugh was UWF President he established an executive  vice presidency. It is a  model that exists in many places and has been at UWF before.  It is not always a position that goes to the provost. In some places the CFO will take on the title, which is sometimes called Senior Vice President.

Here are some other highlights of the conversation:

What additional duties did you assume with the title?

Many! More oversight. I haven't taken direct control of new programs, but more oversight.  And what it's done, the good side, it gives all the vice presidents a chance to get together and speak as one voice when we take things to the president. It streamlines the decision making and maximizes the use of [the president's] time. The vice presidents are still the vice presidents and are still doing what they always did. I hope they feel supported and liberated because I'm doing a little more worrying than they have to.

What brought on this change? A lot of people see it coinciding with UWF being at the bottom of the state funding metrics list last year.

I think that probably triggered it. After that awful day when the metrics came out and we realized that we just had not fared well. [The president and I] talked and I remember saying we were sitting on the bottom and we can't stay there. We've got to take some very strong action to shake ourselves out of this.

What were some of the other changes at the executive level of the university?

On the executive level the president closed the President's Division. That was a streamlining function, it certainly saved some money, and moved some of the responsibilities that were working out of her office into my office...and that includes H.R., working on day to day operations with general council and [other] things.

The C.F.O. has stepped down. And we are looking for a new Vice President for Administrative Services. That search has just launched but I expect to have someone appointed by July. 

So those were the top changes. Of course on the college level we reorganized the Academic Division a year or so ago and have new deans and colleges in place.

That's a great way to introduce the next topic. UWF went from three colleges to four with different specialties being moved around.

That was really an evolutionary change. When I came on board, the academic division had just completed an academic vision process...a strategic plan for the academic division and that included (taking) a look at the shape of the colleges and seeing if they are still right for where we are and where we are going.

It was really a positive experience once people got over "oh my gosh, things might change!" because it forced the departments to think about here's who we are and here's what we are trying to do and where do we think we might best fit.

SEE THE RESULT OF THE CHANGES AND THE FOUR NEW COLLEGES HERE.

So we went out and hired four new deans for these four new colleges and it has just been beautiful to watch them work. They are all in place now, and to watch a team come together is about the most rewarding thing that I do.

How have these changes affected the students?

Administrative changes should be transparent to our students and if they are good changes they should feel the lift. If we are doing our job on the administrative side then things are running more smoothly. And that means the classroom faculty are feeling supported and then they're going to be happier in their jobs and on and on. 

What is going on with student retention?

We have done a lot towards student retention and I think an even broader umbrella is student success. We formed University College [which] is a structure that is designed to ensure and support our student';s success. We realized we needed to strengthen advising (for both transfer and first time in college students). We are also putting a lot behind professional readiness. One of the things that UWF has done well all along is to prepare out students for "the next thing"...the work place or graduate school.  So we want to capitalize on that and really build experiences that set them apart when they get into the workplace. We call them "High Impact Practices" and that's a centerpiece of University College.

When do you sit down and evaluate these changes?

Almost every day! I have mid year reviews with the deans and that is going on this month. Rather than waiting until the end of an academic year, [we talk about] how things are going now, are you making it towards your goals? Where are the hurdles? The deans are working together very well identifying the kinds of information they need to make good decisions. But we are focused with getting these students through and getting them a quality experience, in the shortest time we can, to save them time and money.

This year we are looking at overall scholarship. By that I mean research, both sponsored and other types of research that our faculty are doing. The difference between a university and a teaching college is the scholarship that the faculty do. If our faculty are doing intensive scholarly work in the field, it comes back to the classroom.

How confident are you that when those rankings come out again you'll be up from the bottom of that list and the university will not be penalized again?

I am very confident about this because I know what our numbers are! They are not official so I could be off a point or so but we have greatly strengthened our numbers. We will certainly be way, way up but the other universities are working hard too. We can only compete with ourselves. And we have done a great deal to improve our own performance and we will remain focused on that.

What else should we have talked about that we didn't?

The Innovation Institute. That's an important piece of what we are doing. Sometimes opportunities come along and they don't stay there very long. So I felt like we needed in Academic Affairs what I call a "flying squad".  A team that, when opportunities come up for educational partnerships, that they could jump in and explore those and seize on those opportunities, test them out, see how they work and if they do them absorb them into the main body of the institution. So we set up Innovation Institute. Dr. Pam Northrup is running that with a great team of people.

They have set up of Center For Cybersecurity. that has moved so fast and so well that we are moving that back into the main body of the institution. They are also managing Complete Florida, which could help millions of Floridians complete their degrees. Innovation Institute helps us "try on" things like that to see if they can be absorbed into the main university.

What about the B.E.I., how is that progressing?

Good question.  That program was set up with a lot of hope. I believe that the right project will be very helpful. They haven't found the right project yet. But they just started a couple of years ago and I think the chairman, KC Clark is certainly an astute businessman, and I think if anyone can lead that idea to a beneficial project that will serve the university he's the guy that can do it.