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By Yetnaleci Maya, Dec. 7, 2021

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, Cal Poly Pomona hosted three forums allowing the campus community to learn about and provide feedback on the three finalists for the permanent provost and vice president of Academic Affairs position.

The position, currently held by Interim Provost Iris Levine, oversees the campus’ nine academic colleges, 400 staff members and a budget of over $126 million. As the transition to online and hybrid education has forced the university to reimagine learning and the delivery of educational services, all three candidates were asked to describe both challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic.

The first candidate, Curtis Bennett, the current dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the California State University, Long Beach, acknowledged that the pandemic would have long-term effects on students after losing a whole year of in-person learning but there were some successes in part.

“(Online courses) helped make education more accessible for commuter students,” said Bennett. “That can be good and bad, but that’s an opportunity to think about. We have students in the system who are working full-time jobs, who are non-traditional, who have lots of need to commute. Having to be in a particular place to learn makes it harder for them to access that education.” He proceeded to add that at CSULB they also held seminars with speakers of a much broader variety due to the mobility of a Zoom platform.

To build on that, he stated he would ensure that resources would be allocated to students of all backgrounds, and he would use his past expertise leading teams in grant programs, like he did with the McNair Writing program at Loyola Marymount University, as well as how as a leader he placed an equity advocate on all his hiring search committees at CSULB. He voiced that his reasons for doing this were to ensure questions on the equitable treatment of hiring staff were being raised and not brushed over.

The second candidate, Amy Bippus, is currently the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the California State University, Los Angeles. Bippus expressed her passion for creating value in a face-to-face educational experience and ensuring the recruitment and retainment of talented staff and faculty.

“I’m really passionate about the idea of providing diversity training and support,” said Bippus. “This is something we had done on my campus with great results a few weeks ago. We had the most diverse tenure track hiring class. It was something very intentional, making sure that not only did faculty search committees have an understanding of how to recruit diverse candidates but also how to conduct fair interviewing practices. As we are moving forward, faculty and staff should reflect the students we serve.”

Bippus brought forth ideas in continuing to foster value in an in-person curriculum by stressing alumni career support and utilizing relationships the campus has created within industries and its surrounding community.

“It really can help us demonstrate our value to our students and make them want to come back,” she said.

The third candidate, Jeniffer Brown, is currently the Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education at the University of California, Riverside. Brown discussed how her own personal experience with mentorship, and sometimes the lack of it, continues to frame her passion for making sure faculty and staff are successful.

She presented the three building blocks established at UCR: academic excellence, social belonging, and mental health and well-being.

Brown emphasized creating a sense of belonging virtually and proceeded to explain the way a mentorship program developed at UCR helped cultivate a sense of community for first-year and transfer students.

“For fall 2020, which was our inaugural term, 35% of our freshmen were matched with a mentor. They were so impressed that they told us we should include transfer students after that. So, we brought the program back and in fall of 2021, now we have 50% of freshman that are matched with a mentor and 37% of transfers that are matched with a mentor.”

With respect to post-pandemic instruction, Brown highlighted mental health would be an ongoing issue and this program allowed for the students at UCR who had not previously been on campus to feel included.

In an interview with The Poly Post, Interim Provost Levine expressed that the upcoming provost would have to emanate an inspiring attitude.

“This next person is going to have to have innovative ideas, they are going to have to be bold,” said Levine. “I think this next person is going to have to connect to the vision of the president, and she has big bold ideas. They are also going to have to be able to partner well with all the other vice presidents to really move this university forward.”

The new provost is expected to take office the summer before the upcoming academic year, no later than July 1, 2022.

All candidate forums were recorded and posted on the campus’ executive searches website along with their resumes and biographies.

Feature image by Elizabeth Casillas

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