By Nicolas Hernandez, Aug. 24, 2021

Iris Levine, dean of the College of Letters Arts & Social Sciences, and Jill Hargis, a professor in the Department of Political Science, were tapped by Cal Poly Pomona administrators this summer to interim leadership positions in the university’s Division of Academic Affairs.  

Levine and Hargis’ appointments as interim provost and interim associate vice president for faculty affairs, respectively, come following various departures from the division ahead of the university’s phased reopening in the fall. Among departing administrators was former Provost Sylvia Alva who took on the role of executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs in the California State University Chancellor’s Council. 

As the new head of the Academic Affairs division, Levine’s responsibilities include overseeing the campus’ nine colleges, academic programs and resources, and university enrollment.  

When asked by University President Soraya Coley to take on the interim position, Levine recalled the president telling her that her “values were completely aligned with the mission of the university” and her campus experience would help her succeed in the role. 

Levine first came to CPP as a faculty member in the Department of Music in 1990, later serving as the department’s chair. In 2018 she officially became dean of CLASS after first serving for a year as interim dean and in early 2021 took on the additional role of interim dean of the College of Education & Integrative Studies 

“It allowed me to see things beyond my home college,” said Levine, discussing how serving as a “double dean” allowed her to transition to the new position. “It allowed me to see how another college was functioning and allowed me to meet the department chairs and faculty in these other departments. It really spread my knowledge and allowed me to look beyond what I had known.” 

Levine speaks virtually during the fall 2021 Academic Affairs Forum. (Nicolas Hernandez | The Poly Post)

Hargis, as the interim associate vice president for faculty affairs, is now tasked with leading the Office of Faculty Affairs and overseeing the Center for Advancement of Faculty Excellence.  

“Supporting faculty is really important; supporting faculty on campus is how we support students, and we support the mission of the university,” said Hargis, explaining her decision to accept the position. “If faculty feel supported, if they have the time and resources they need, then they’ll be able to devote more time to their students and their research.” 

Hargis first arrived at the campus in 2006 as a professor in the Department of Political Science. From there, Hargis became department chair and served as a CLASS senator in the Academic Senate’s Executive Committee, positions she credits as opportunities to get to know the provost and other administrators.  

Hargis’ appointment came after the announcement last year that former Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs Martin Sancho-Madriz would be serving as the interim dean of the Huntley College of Agriculture after having led the Faculty Affairs office since 2018. 

In addition, Sep Eskandari, a CPP alumnus who served as associate provost since 2018, left the university to accept a position as the new provost of Montana State University Billings. Levine said that there is currently no plan by the university to launch a search for the associate provost position, adding that the priority is the search for a permanent provost who can then assemble their team.  

Academic continuity, explained Levine, is one of the guiding principles for a successful phased reopening, along with ensuring the health of the campus community.  

“We want to make sure that the courses are available for students to take,” said Levine. “We have a variety of modalities of those courses, hoping to be able to work with students to get them to enroll in the type of course that is going to be most aligned with their own needs.” 

The university will be offering three forms of instruction in the fall: online, hybrid, and face-to-face. During the Academic Affairs Forum for faculty and staff on Aug. 17, Levine shared that 53% of fall courses would be entirely online, 7% would be face-to-face, and 40% would be hybrid — meaning faculty have discretion about the frequency in which the class meets in person.  

For Hargis, communication — both from administrators to faculty and from faculty to students — is integral to a successful return. 

With updates from campus administrators, the Safer Return Task Force and public health officials about the current status of the pandemic, Hargis hopes to provide faculty members with “clear guidance” on communicating with students each course’s logistics.  

During the forum, Levine also revealed that a total of 45 faculty searches were authorized for the 2021-22 academic year. Of those, 35 will be distributed among the various colleges. Ten will be allocated to CLASS; six each to CEIS and the College of Science; four each to the Colleges of Business Administration, Engineering, and Environmental Design; and one search to the College of Agriculture.  

The remaining 10 searches are dedicated to hiring more faculty to teach the newly implemented ethnic studies general education requirement. 

 The implementation of the requirement was a principal topic of discussion in the Academic Senate last semester. Academic Senate Chair Jocelyn Pacleb — who began her term as chair this summer — is a professor in the Ethnic & Women’s Studies Department and views the implementation and expansion of ethnic studies courses as a way to address the needs of a diverse campus.  

“I’ve seen the hard work that folks have done in making sure that the ethnic studies requirement is implemented to the best that it can,” said Pacleb. “I think it is exciting that we have several new Area F courses that are going to be taught in the fall.”   

As stated by Levine in the forum, President Coley approved 14 courses to fulfill the Area F requirement. While many are housed solely within the EWS Department, some are also cross-listed with other departments as diverse as Landscape Architecture, Apparel Merchandising and Management, and Theatre.   

In general, Pacleb views the relationship between Academic Senate and Academic Affairs as one that should demonstrate “shared governance” when tackling the most important issues facing the university, a dynamic Levine committed to continuing. 

“I have no issues with how we will continue that shared governance,” said Levine. “I think conversation, communication and dedication to the shared governance model is really an important thing.”

Pacleb, having worked previously with Levine when she served as interim dean of CEIS, spoke positively about Levine’s appointment. 

“She listens; she’s pretty straightforward,” said Pacleb. “I think that’s what we need in terms of leadership…. I know she’s going to continue to bring that type of leadership at this particular level.” 

Pacleb also praised Hargis’ knowledge of campus policies and her insight into faculty reappointment, tenure and promotion processes as well as faculty searches.  

This academic year’s promise of new faculty searches, under the leadership of Hargis, come after faculty searches were placed on hold during the previous year when the campus and university system were hit with state funding cuts as a result of the pandemic.  

“Because of the budget last year, faculty hiring was on hold,” said Hargis. “But we are back on track this year and we are going to start again the search process as soon as faculty are on campus.” 

While Hargis described the hiring process as one that is primarily driven by search committees made up of current faculty members, she explained that Faculty Affairs will serve as support for those processes.  

In a March 2019 meeting with the Academic Senate, Academic Affairs laid out an eventual goal of 67.7% as the proportion of the campus’ faculty to be in a tenure-track position — a goal hoped to be achieved via 2% annual increases in the campus’ tenure density. Despite last year’s budget gap and suspension of faculty hirings, the campus bucked a four-year trend of tenure density drops and just met its annual goal, increasing its tenure density ratio in 2020 to 54.1% in 2020 after a nine-year low of 52% in 2019, according to October 2020 CSU data. 

Levine confirmed that Academic Affairs will continue to strive for the annual 2% increases, adding that if the process can be accelerated, the division will try to do so.  

“Progress is always good; progress is always good,” Pacleb said. “Meeting a percentage is actually always good, but there’s always, again, faculty and department chairs who will always say, ‘We need more; we need more.’” 

Related to faculty hirings is the issue of student-faculty ratio. In fall 2020, CPP possessed the second-highest total student-faculty ratio and second-highest tenure-track student-faculty ratio among the 23 CSU campuses.  

While Hargis acknowledged that virtual instruction has allowed for some flexibility in teaching, she still views improving the ratio as an important goal.  

“It’s important as a polytechnic and a student-centered university, definitely,” said Hargis. “We want to be a student-centered CSU.” 

Levine echoed this sentiment saying that polytechnic experiences like labs and activities are part of the campus’ identity.  

“That’s who we are; that’s what differentiates Cal Poly Pomona from other CSUs and other universities,” Levine continued. “We have that hands-on experience, and we hope to have every student engage in the signature polytechnic experience while they are here.” 

However, while Levine said that lowering the student-faculty ratio would be “helpful” to promoting a polytechnic education, she did not view it as “a necessity,” saying that while some polytechnic instruction such as undergraduate research would benefit from a lower ratio, other more collaborative activities would not always benefit from fewer students in the class.  

In the July announcement of Levine’s new role, President Coley said that the search for a permanent provost would begin in the fall. Alva’s email to faculty announcing Hargis’ new role in May set forth a two-year interim term for Hargis.  

Levine declined to comment on whether she would want to continue in the position past the interim term, saying, “I have told the president that I’m happy to serve in this interim role and we will just leave it at that.” 

Hargis said that her future career decision-making would be guided by whether she enjoys the work she is doing and whether she feels she is doing good in the world. 

“I care about big issues like the environment and social justice issues and politics,” said Hargis. “So, this is a little removed from that. I have my activist politics in the background…. But I imagine that I’ll get to a point where I say, ‘It’s time to start working with students on these important issues again.’”  

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