Chronicle sits down with Wearden

By Campus Editor

Anthony Soave
Stan Wearden, soon-to-be senior vice president and provost, visited campus March 14 to meet with administrators. He will replace Interim Provost Louise Love when he begins his new position July 1.

As Chicago began to thaw from the grueling winter, Stan Wearden made his first visit to Columbia’s campus March 14 as the soon-to-be provost and senior vice president.

President Kwang-Wu Kim announced Wearden’s new position to the college community Feb. 26 in an email. Wearden, who will replace Interim Provost Louise Love, will officially assume his new role July 1. The departing dean of the College of Communication and Information at Kent State University visited the college to talk with various administrators, he said.

In addition to earning a doctorate in mass communication research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1987, Wearden played a variety of roles during his 30 years at Kent State, including director of the School of Communication Studies, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and chair of the Institutional Review Board, according to his curriculum vitae.

Wearden, 60, boasted major achievements at Kent State, such as increasing freshman retention rates, creating multiple online master’s programs, increasing undergraduate enrollment and helping to create six online degree programs, according to his CV.

Long before his academic career began, Wearden lived in several places including Houston; Ithaca, N.Y.; Morgantown, W.Va.; and Birmingham, England.

On March 14, Wearden sat down with The Chronicle to discuss his views on diversity in academia, past experience in higher education and future plans as senior vice president and provost.

THE CHRONICLE: What brought you to Kent State? 

STAN WEARDEN: My father was in [higher education], so I had an interest in that all along although my first job when I graduated from college was public relations. I did public relations for a nonprofit in Charleston, W.Va. In that job I became very interested in journalism. I got to know a lot of journalists because part of my job, was media relations, so I decided to go back and get my master’s degree. I went to West Virginia University and got a [master’s degree in journalism] … with a specialization in science writing. I had initially been an undergraduate science major for the first couple of years. The place where I went to school—Wheeling College—had a very pre-med-oriented biology program and I was not interested in medicine. I was interested in science. I was also interested in writing, so I switched to English. There was no journalism major there, but I kind of held on to those two interests … I also had an opportunity to teach a class while I was there and I absolutely fell in love with that, so I decided to go on to a Ph.D, and here I am.

CC: What do you enjoy about teaching?

SW: I love the interaction with students. I love learning from students as much as I teach them. I love the way it keeps you cognitively young to interact with students who are in that phase of life where their energy level and their mental activity is probably the most active it will ever be.

CC: What attracted you to Columbia?

SW: I was approached by the search firm Isaacson, Miller, and I knew a little bit about Isaacson, Miller. Their reputation is that they’re very good at matching candidates with institutions … [Issacson, Miller] sent me a lot of information, including Dr. Kim’s inauguration address, and I was incredibly impressed. Not only is he a superb orator, but I really loved his vision and his passion for this institution and his commitment to [transparency]. I was very excited about that, so that caused me to become more interested. I went through the initial interview with the search committee, which I did via Skype. [Then Dr. Kim and I] met and talked for six hours, and that caused me to become even more interested.… For one thing, I thought [the talk] was brilliant because no president I know does that with provost candidates. That relationship is a critical relationship for the success of the college…. And then coming here for the two-day interview kind of sealed the deal for me. Every group I met with was committed to this college whether it was students or faculty or administrators, loves the college [and] is thrilled to be here.

CC: What are your plans upon your arrival in July?

SW: My plan is to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I’ll be meeting with as many people as I can to get their sense of what their goals are, obstacles they face, what solutions they’re thinking about for those obstacles and a sense of where this college needs to go academically. I’d like to then have some time to shape that into a larger image. I think that the college needs an academic affairs strategic plan—a five-year plan with achievable goals. I want to have an inclusive process for that, including feedback from students and faculty and staff and administrators … in fairly short order after arriving here.

CC: What challenges do you think Columbia faces and how might you address them in the future? 

SW: There are unique challenges in Columbia being a private institution as opposed to a public institution. I’m not saying that Columbia hasn’t done this to a large extent already, but it’s really critical for an institution like this to have a very, very clear sense of mission, and I know it has a sense of mission. What I’m not sure of is whether it has a sense of mission for the 21st century and how much of that sense of mission has been updated. I’m not suggesting that the entire mission of the college should be undermined, but it needs to be revisited. We need to make sure that we’re preparing students for a 21st century practice in creative disciplines. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a real opportunity. We really need to look comprehensively at the curriculum, and that’s part of the mission issue that I’m talking about. We’re still preparing students…. [but we must give] students what they actually need, practice in 21st century industries. Part of that is taking a look at the core, which is fundamentally strong and inspiring.

CC: How would you implement technology in the classroom?

SW: I think every course should be a hybrid course. I understand you’ve moved to Moodle as the learning management system for the college and that’s a great tool. There’s no reason why every faculty member shouldn’t be using that for every single class to the [fullest] extent possible. Take the drier materials [such as] some of [the] lectures, some of the resource material that students can access online repeatedly, for one thing. If you take notes, the lecture is only as good as your ability to take notes. If the lecture is permanently online, you can refer back to that lecture as many times as you need to. It’s not for every class and it’s not for every program, but there are real opportunities and it’s important for us to move quickly on these things or the world will pass us by.

CC: How would you suggest implementing new technology in courses offered in the Dance Department or similar programs?

SW: There are things that can be done online with dance. You could show …. the dancing of great choreographers to give students an idea of [what] great dancers really look like. I’m not a dancer and you wouldn’t want to see me try. Even in a discipline like [that] that’s studio-based, there are still things that you can do with learning technology that enhance the learning environment for the student.

CC: How were you able to increase retention rates at Kent State?

SW: A lot of it has to do with before kids get to Kent State. It’s a matter of defining a model of selectivity that works for your institution. What kinds of students are most likely to succeed? And by succeed I mean graduate…. We’re in the business of admitting students and graduating them, but who graduates from Columbia and what variables predict the likelihood of graduating from this institution? Because that then helps us to target our recruiting…. and look for the kinds of students who have those skills and knowledge and background that make them more interested to be at Columbia and succeed at Columbia …. There’s not one magic bullet for retention. It’s really looking at the entire jigsaw puzzle and putting the pieces together.

CC: Columbia has an emphasis on diversity. How do you balance being more selective with attracting students of different backgrounds?

SW: When selectivity and diversity butt heads it’s because of a too narrow definition of selectivity. Typically,selectivity means GPA and test scores. For an institution like Columbia, that’s just way too shortsighted. Portfolio reviews can be strong predictors of success, especially at arts programs. There are a lot of things you can do that will not have a negative impact on diversity. In fact, it may enhance diversity.

CC: If you could say anything to the student body, what would it be?

SW: I’m extraordinarily impressed with them [and] that this is the most energetic, engaged, dynamic [and] creative student body that I’ve seen anywhere.