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Nov. 6, 2014 Volume 36, No. 11

Second provost candidate touts shared governance and staff career paths

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Provost candidate John Wiencek spoke Oct. 29 of his accomplishments as dean of the College of Engineering at the University of South Florida. Photo by Rob Hill.

John Wiencek, MU’s second provost candidate to participate in an open forum, represented himself as a fair, direct and levelheaded leader who can make tough decisions.

At an open forum Oct. 29 in Memorial Union, he offered a proactive view about improving the University of Missouri. To faculty who complain that the Association of American Universities’ metrics don’t give enough consideration to the humanities, Wiencek proposed they write a position paper to the association that explains why the humanities and the social sciences deserve greater consideration. In response to a question of what institution MU should aspire to be like, he was in sync with Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s remarks on the topic Sept. 18 at his inauguration.

“I don’t think we need to compare ourselves,” Wiencek said, explaining that all universities have strengths and weaknesses that can vary widely. Comparing or aspiring to be like another public land-grant institution can hold an institution back, he said.

Wiencek’s educational background is in chemical engineering. He earned a doctorate in the field from Case Western Reserve University.

Since August 2013, he’s been an administrator in the Office of the Provost at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public research institution with 32,000 students in Richmond. He started as senior vice provost of administration and strategic initiatives. In May 2014, he became interim provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Prior to Virginia, he spent six years as dean in the College of Engineering at the University of South Florida. He has also been a faculty member and administrator in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the University of Iowa.

At South Florida, Wiencek joined a college where the research office, fundraising office and advisory board had been dismantled. The college also faced a 15 percent budget cut. Faculty and staff were demoralized, Wiencek told an audience of about 75 MU faculty, students, staff and administrators.

Restructuring, budget reallocation, better communication across departments, recruitment and other actions turned the college around in two years, Wiencek said.

Employees “loved” the college’s strategic plan because “it was very transparent,” he said.

Wiencek said MU’s strengths are plant sciences, agriculture, journalism, the humanities and the social sciences. More medical and engineering research are needed. “You have strengths and weaknesses, which is no different than any other school,” he said. “But there should be more investments in engineering and the medical school.”

In distributing funds to units, he tends to “play to the strengths.” Over time, the goal would be to have all units receive the funds they need. But there aren’t “enough resources to rain it down and have everyone come up at the same time,” he said.

Wiencek views the provost-faculty relationship as reflecting “the collective faculty view,” and at Virginia he strives to create “a more robust career path” for staff.

As for faculty salaries, Wiencek was levelheaded. He said salaries have been an issue at each of the three institutions he’s worked at since 2007; at Virginia, there have been no raises in the past seven years. He asked MU faculty to examine salaries and frequency of raises at other institutions. “Benchmark yourself carefully,” he said.

On Oct. 28, Wiencek spent the day meeting MU leaders, including Budget Director Rhonda Gibler. At his talk, he quoted Gibler, saying that it summarized his own sentiments about higher education.

“We are not here to make money,” Wiencek said. “We are here to make a difference.”

If you attended John Wiencek's open forum on Oct. 29, and did not already fill out an evaluation, please provide your feedback at the following link. The link closes at 5 p.m. Friday.

Also read the Mizzou Weekly story on provost candidate Michele Wheatly.