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Interim provost pushing the ball forward and helping create culture of accountability, transparency

Michigan State University
Teresa A. Sullivan

“The provost is the chief academic officer of the university, so the person to whom the faculty report because the deans report to me, and also the person who's responsible for the students,” says Teresa A. Sullivan, interim provost at Michigan State University. “We take care of everything from admissions to student discipline to graduation. The provost is also typically somebody who can serve as a surrogate for the president when that's necessary. But the chief part of the job is the academics and keeping the academy strong and vital.”

Continuing to improve student and faculty success is a key goal for Sullivan.

“I like to say that presidents have priorities and provosts carry them out. The provost is, above all, responsible for student and faculty success. That's a really important objective. We are doing very well in terms of improving student retention and graduation rates. We've got a long way to go to be best in class, and I think we'd like to be best in class. That's something that we need to work on. I'm also going to do what I can do to support President Stanley in creating a culture that values accountability and transparency.

“I'm going to help him on the provost search. There are some other important school and college issues that I will be working on. Some of these are accreditation issues, including the university's overall accreditation. We have a major report due next June that we need to be working on. There's budget planning and all the things that you've got to do to keep the university in good shape. I do see myself as more than a caretaker. I'm going to try and push the ball forward and leave the provost's office in the best possible position for the next person simply to walk in and be able to take over.”

Interim Provost Sullivan believes that being provost “is in many ways the best job at a university.

“Most of us went into higher education because we love learning and we love students, and the provost is the person in the administration who actually has the most direct effect on the climate and atmosphere for learning and on the students. That goes all the way from admissions to graduation. That's the reason we come into the business.”

What are some challenges and opportunities ahead for MSU and higher education in general?

“I'm a demographer by training, so I'll start with the demographic challenges. The school age population is declining pretty fast in the northern tier states, and correspondingly it's growing very quickly in the southern tier states. You have schools in the Sun Belt that are bursting at the seams and you have buildings being closed at universities in the north because they don't have enough people to occupy them. Michigan State, I would say, is not in that latter position, but we are in a situation where it's going to be more competitive to attract students.

“Giving our students the experience of interacting with people from other countries is more difficult now because international students are more wary of coming to the United States. They find it easier to go to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain than to come here. That cuts our students off from that kind of experience, and in the long run when these young people become leaders of their own countries, it cuts us off from a kind of connection to that leadership. Michigan State's been a leader in making international connections for its students, and that's helped some of our alumni very much because they develop a network of friends abroad. If they start a business, it's easier for them to get an export relationship with their friends in that other country, and it helps to build American business and build American jobs.

“It's very important to know that the provost's office is here to help you get your academic work done. We may not be able to solve everybody's problem overnight, but when we identify a problem that's affecting a lot of people, we will try hard to work on that. The measure of my success is your success. If students are graduating, if faculty members are being successful in their own academic careers, if the teaching environment is exciting and people want to learn, if the library is crowded, those are all measures of success.

“When I was an undergraduate, I was so impressed with the notion that Michigan State saw its mission as reaching out beyond the boundaries of the campus to everyone in Michigan and beyond. I see that continuing now in additional ways. Healthcare is an example. President Stanley announced that there would be a new executive vice president for health affairs whose portfolio would include the Colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, and Nursing.

That offers us a great opportunity for two things. Internally to the school, it means we can pursue what's called interprofessional practice, which means young nurses and young doctors train with each other so that they know how to do that when they go out and work in a hospital or in an office setting. It also touches many, many partners we have all around the state where we send our residents or our student nurses on rotation and they go to all kinds of health facilities everywhere in the state.

“Healthcare is very important for everybody in Michigan, and Michigan State is really going to be a leader in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the future. They're not going to look like the needs of the past. They're going to be different. We're going to train the young people and find ways to immerse them in communities so that we have the greatest impact.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870.

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