Dear Future Chancellor

Arkansas State University, where I teach, the University of Kansas, my alma mater, and just about every Mennonite college I love and have taught at is or has recently been searching for a new president or chancellor. While the needs of each institution vary, here are the questions I’d ask if I were on the A-State hiring committee:

  1. What are the three biggest concerns you have about higher education in general? How will you support this university in efforts to combat them? How can our institution be a leader in improving higher ed beyond our own campus?
  2. Who do you see Arkansas State University serving? Given that under 20% of Arkansans will earn a 4-year degree, how do you explain the value of public education in the state to a broad audience of taxpayers? Can you go beyond an economic justification?
  3. How will you increase the percent of educators who are in full-time, tenure-track or tenured positions? How will you transition temporary full-time and part-time teaching positions into permanent positions with pay and benefits that recognize the contribution of those teachers to the university? How will you insure that adjunct positions are used to bring experts into the classroom for classes that faculty are unequipped to teach?
  4. What is the ideal ratio  for the salaries of the lowest paid and highest paid educators across departments, colleges, and the university? What is the ideal ratio of salaries between the lowest paid full-time university employee and the highest paid one, not including the football coach? Including the football coach? What is the highest ratio you will tolerate? What will you do to bring salaries into alignment so that they reflect the contributions of all members of campus? Would you be willing to take a pay cut to insure that all A-State employees are paid a living wage that is commensurate with their contribution to campus?
  5. Tell me about a time when you were able to expand opportunities for students or faculty in the face of opposition from a board or state legislature.
  6. Have you successfully implemented or overseen programs that support senior faculty in making meaningful contributions to the university as they transition to retirement?
  7. Spousal hires can strengthen a university, especially one that has faced high turnover, such as Arkansas State. What will you do to encourage spousal accommodations?
  8. More than half of A-State students fail to graduate within 6 years, yet they leave with life-altering student debt. How will you increase the graduation rate? How will you decrease the cost of attendance?
  9. Consider the demands that the Higher Learning Commission has placed on the university in the previous 10 years. Which ones would you have fought against? Are there times in previous jobs where you have seen a higher learning commission, state or federal department of education, board, or other entity with oversight over the university propose a change that you thought was detrimental to students or faculty? How did you respond?
  10. Most institutions’ responses to acts of bias, hate, and sexual violence focus on reputation protection.  How have you worked to insure that victims are protected and cared for and that increasingly diverse campuses are places where all students are safe from harassment, violence, and discrimination? How do you think Arkansas State University can better do this?
  11. “R1 creep”–the push for professors at small liberal arts and low- and mid-tier state schools with heavy teaching loads to publish–continues to strain faculty time, yet they are given few resources to support research and the little that is offered is awarded through internal competition that undermines collaboration between colleagues.How will you combat this? Are you willing to increase funding for faculty research? Provide course releases for grant preparation? Reduce publishing expectations? Would you support the creation of a two-tiered system that tenures and rewards both professors who focus on teaching and those who focus on research?
  12. Will you allow any employee of the university to attend board meetings held during their working hours without reducing their pay?
  13. Chancellor Hudson widened A-State’s scope in a number of ways: by starting an school of osteopathic medicine that seems like a terrible financial deal for the university and for the med school students, building a campus in Mexico that seems of dubious value to the students of A-State, and erecting luxury dorms in an effort to become a “destination university.” Many faculty are concerned that these endeavors are a distraction from the mission of the university: to provide an affordable education for the students of the region. Faculty  and students alike are attracted to A-State because of this mission. Would you consider exiting some of these deals? How would you rebuild lines of communication with faculty and students to insure that, in the future, the university remains mission-focused?
  14. Will you evaluate the football team in the same way as you do academic departments? Will you be willing to cut athletic budgets when sports are not self-supportive? If not, how will you explain to the nearly 50% of A-State students who receive Pell grants that they should pay $19 per credit hour–$2280 over the course of a 120 credit hour degree or the cost of nearly 4 classes!–to support sports that are unable to pay for themselves?
  15. How have you been successful in the past at increasing state support for higher education?
  16. How will you protect academic freedom on campus?
  17. How many days each week, on average, will you be eating lunch with A-State faculty, students, and staff? What other strategies do you have to be open to feedback from those with less power than you? What kind of listener are you?
  18. What do you want your legacy at A-State to be?
  19. You are given $20 million to spend at A-State as you see fit. How do you spend it?

    Above, Fowler House, the residence of Arkansas State University’s future Chancellor. 

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