The fourth candidate for the position of Western New Mexico University provost/vice president interviewed in Silver City today. William "Jack" Crocker, whose most recent administrative position was as vice president of Academic Quality and Success at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, now serves on the board of the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he was a founding dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
His circuitous route in and out of academia included stints in poetry writing, and song writing and recording, as well as time spent in Albuquerque, NM. His love for the area influences his desire for the position at WNMU.
Crocker said he likes the tagline of "Transforming the Future Together," and based his presentation on the three main words. He visited Silver City last October in a consulting capacity, which sparked his interest in coming to the university.
"I like academic adventures, and you are in a transition," Crocker said. "Because of national trends, I think we're under the gun to make changes. I would argue that some parts of a university should be constant, such as academic freedom and shared governance, but everything comes down to how we provide for students to be successful."
He said WNMU has a great opportunity to be a top Hispanic-serving institution. More than 300 colleges and universities, including those in Puerto Rico, are Hispanic-serving institutions. Only a 25 percent population at the university is required for the designation, but Western has 60 percent. "I see the opportunity for HSI to be a strength, but success should be for all students. It takes essential leadership and commitment from the president down."
Crocker said WNMU provides high quality programs at an affordable cost. "The quality has to be in all modes of instruction, including online, face-to-face and hybrid, and at all levels of graduation from associates degrees to bachelor's and master's degrees.
He pointed out WNMU has accreditation coming up in the fall. "It's necessary. There is a new standard—public good. I don't know what that means, and I hope there is an opportunity for institutions to define it. Maintaining quality is the main goal."
Crocker said the type of student that should come out of an institution should be a lifelong learner, engaged citizen and competitive in a global marketplace. "Students must be able to adapt."
I know you have service learning as a requirement," Crocker said. "You have to have a population of students being engaged in public life, and they must also be competitiven in the global marketplace, which is becoming local."
He said a focus should be placed on increasing scholarships and grants, so students do not graduate with crippling debt.
For faculty and staff, salary is an important issue. "Salaries have been stagnant here, so it has to become a strategic focus. Professional development goes hand-in-hand with a reward system."
Crocker suggested an innovation academy should be established to allow faculty and staff to use their intellectual capital and creativity.
"Ideas for the future and how to improve what's here now need to come from the bottom up," Crocker said. "Across the country, there has been an explosion in adjunct professors. We need to do full-time faculty and succession planning to increase the fulltime to parttime ratio. A lot of your faculty members have been here a long time, so there is a core of expertise, but I think you will have a turnover in the future. How will we plan and recruit to replace those leaving?"
Crocker also addressed the role of the university in the community and the region. "The university should have the role as an economic development catalyst to bring expertise to help in economic development The institution has to be part of the larger community. You have strength in the two-year programs. If you're trying to bring in industry, you can get programs up and running quickly."
He suggested expanding the cultural partnerships and enrichment. "I know you're using the theater for the community, and the public can use your library. That reinforces the mission and increases friends."
WNMU should be the university of choice for the region and a champion of inclusion. He said he would like to see the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning expanded.
"The goal for you in the state, national and international realm should be to become a leader among peer institutions," Crocker said. "The model now is often for return on investment. I'm not advocating a corporate structure. The ROI has to be data-driven. You have to be able to show your investment in students and that taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment."
He said part of the information to parents and students should be the real costs of their higher education, with the average salary of someone getting a specific degree.
"This kind of accountability is coming," Crocker said. "You are aiming for enrollment growth. If you grow to 5,000 students, you will have to have concomitant faculty growth. Through marketing you have to get the word out and become a wider draw for students. Make it a destination for diverse faculty, staff and students."
The word transformation includes discovery/technology, shaped/shaping, inclusion and education=hope.
"We have to be able to translate the past to students and show how it is relevant to them," Crocker said. "TV coverage of events is no longer a player. Reports on the Boston Marathon bombing were instantaneous with texting and Twitter. Can they be used in classes? The way information is handled has radically changed. How do I know what I'm being told is true? You can go to anywhere on the Internet to find something where your thoughts can be supported."
He said the faculty has the responsibility to help shape and make the future for students.
"Inclusion is part of transformation in this time of mistrust and polarization in the country," Crocker said. "Demographics is making it necessary to have students be able to interact with one another."
Education=hope means "we give hope to students. The community college movement was huge for the country. My own bias is not to act as a corporation. We're not just employees, and there has to be shared governance, as well as shared responsibility. Students are why we are here."
I think this institution is on track, and I think I would enjoy joining you," Crocker said in conclusion before the question-and-answer session.
"You mentioned for profit," an audience member asked. "Should we privatize the university? Is that the model you are proposing?"
"No, just the opposite," Crocker said. "I was saying that, as public institutions, we should show students what they are getting for their $4,000 in tuition."
An audience member asked how Crocker as provost would work on the accreditation process on the regional level, as well as professional accreditation.
He said he was not as familiar with the area's regional organization, "but I am quite experienced with the southern regional accreditation organization. At Florida Gulf Coast University, we had to do a complete accreditation. You have to be organized with all the information. You have to be diligent in presenting the information asked for. Don't fudge. You have to show who your audience is and you have to get evidence in the accreditation.
A questioner asked what experience Crocker had in getting grants and alternative financing sources.
"To start Florida Gulf Coast University, we had to rely on grants, because we weren't yet getting state funding," Crocker said. "We had someone in the English department who was very good at getting grants. We ran workshops for faculty on getting grants and the best practices on how to get them."
A student asked how Crocker would retain faculty, as during her tenure as a master's degree candidate, she has had seven professors, and only three remain.
"I think the faculty wants to be treated fairly and rewarded," Crocker said. "It could be salaries. The provost role should be respect for faculty members. I resigned a position because I was being micromanaged. The intangible is as important as the tangible rewards. Do you do exit interviews? Sometimes they can give you pertinent information."
An audience member asked how Crocker would promote Western.
"You have to get the word out through marketing," Crocker said. "You can't live on promises, so don't fake what you're not. Quality programs treat students with respect. More and more students are seeing themselves as consumers, so you have to factor that in as well."
Another questioner asked how Crocker would coordinate the new competitive colleges within Western.
"You have to have a direction that you are going," Crocker replied. "You have to measure requests. You need consensus on the colleges going in the same direction as the university. The baseline question is whether what you're doing will help the students. A finite pot of money requires fairness and transparency.
"As an administrator, I have learned you can't take things personally," Crocker said. "You have to keep to the mission and the university direction. Is a new program needed or is it just good to have? You must set priorities."