AMES — Everyone’s seeking the model for a successful institution of higher education in the 21st century, and University of Central Florida Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker believes it involves high impact at the local, national and international level.
As a finalist to become Iowa State University’s 16th president, Whittaker during a forum Wednesday told a crowd of hundreds the institution is poised to lead the charge for real change.
At the micro level, Whittaker urged ISU to focus on providing the best undergraduate experience in the Association of American Universities — an invitation-only organization that boasts only 62 members “on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship, and solutions that contribute to scientific progress, economic development, security and well-being.”
At the state level, he suggested, ISU should focus on “unleashing the potential of every person in every community in Iowa, regardless of the ZIP code or the address that they are born in … regardless of how much money their family has and regardless of whether their parents went to college or not.”
Globally, Whittaker hearkened to the AAU mission of tackling massive global problems — like world hunger.
“Iowa State will be a leader to end hunger and create a future that can be sustained,” he said. “When you want to aspire to a future, you have to build on your strengths, and this is an institution that is better positioned than any institution in the world … to lead the addressing of hunger.”
Whittaker, 56, was the third of four finalists to visit campus this week in hopes of succeeding former ISU President Steven Leath, who left to become president of Auburn University.
When Whittaker urged ISU leadership to solve local and international problems, he acknowledged — like candidates before him — the school already is advancing.
“The new trajectory is really just an increase of a slope of an already very exciting trajectory,” he said.
Whittaker said ISU must — among other things — prioritize faculty. That is a message many at ISU — and at Iowa’s other public universities — have been hammering as lawmakers stripped funding amid a budget shortfall.
Whittaker said Central Florida invested in faculty and reaped benefits.
“It advanced first-year retention. It advanced scholarly productivity. It advanced our student-to-faculty ratio. It advanced our ability to have a high-impact learning experience for every student,” he said.
In addressing the problem of world hunger, Whittaker said, ISU needs to collaborate with strong partners — say the Gates Foundation or Ford Foundation. And it needs to involve a lot of perspectives — including on policy and ethics.
During a question and answer segment, students focused more internally, such as on ISU’s climate of diversity and security. One student pressed Whittaker on what he believes about some of those issues facing the nation.
Whittaker advocated the need to provide consistent communication with underrepresented groups and quick response in circumstances that are afoul of the institution’s values.
Staff members and students, while praising Whittaker’s ideals, questioned him on practicality — with too few resources as it is.
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“I think it’s important for this president, for your next president, to be a voice for higher education, the value of higher education, not only to people but to the economy,” he said.