From animal surgery to university administration, Dr. Warwick Arden’s career has taken some interesting turns.
Arden, named the university’s chief academic officer Dec. 3 after 18 months as interim provost, sat down this week with the Bulletin to talk about what’s next and what he’s learned along the way.
Are your priorities for the near future—strategic planning and the budget—different from your long-term goals as provost?
No, they’re not. The strategic plan should be developing our strategic priorities so that we have a clear road map and metrics for how we measure our progress toward those objectives for the next five to seven years. And so it is part of our long-term planning process.
The budget is important because this year in particular, we’re faced with some significant budgetary challenges in addition to what we’ve faced over the last couple of years. So there’s a need to place a lot of attention short-term on budget challenges and potential reductions to our budget and then focus on how we develop our resources as an institution to become more resilient in terms of fluctuations we have in our budget over time.
You’ve had some time now to listen during the strategic planning process and during your campus interviews. What are you hearing from faculty as their top concerns?
We have a phenomenal faculty who are dedicated, work hard and care about our student body. They’re very creative. I think it is fair to say that our faculty numbers, tenure-track faculty numbers, haven’t kept pace with the demands placed on them, particularly in terms of our enrollment. Because of the budget cuts—lost faculty numbers, support staff and support programs—it’s fair to say that our faculty are feeling stressed at the moment. So I think faculty are looking for answers to how we get through the next budget without significant attrition in our academic core, which is a principal concern to me.
And most importantly, how we set this up for success down the line. How we get in position to hire significantly more faculty, enable faculty success, enable research funding, expand our offerings for students, increase our graduation and retention rates. A lot of factors there are really interwoven in terms of the way we develop faculty excellence, support our faculty and have an optimal effect on student success.
We have set a goal of increasing graduate enrollment, which will require talented tenure-track faculty. Can we achieve that in this budget climate?
I think it’s going to be very difficult in the next year or possibly two. Even in the current year, we have allocated a little over $5 million in recurring funding that will result in the hiring of 25 new faculty members across campus. Going into the next year, we’re facing fairly significant budgetary challenges but at the same time we’re trying to keep some funds aside, so that the chancellor is able to begin implementing the strategic plan. And one of his highest priorities and my highest priorities is expanding our faculty.
So we’ve got to be careful that we don’t move too far backward in our budget cuts and that we begin deploying new faculty and moving ahead with faculty hires. Expanding our graduate enrollment requires a focus on scope and quality of our graduate programs, integrated with retaining, hiring and enabling great faculty to do their work.
There’s a been a change in the reporting line, with student affairs now reporting directly to the provost rather than the chancellor. Will this fundamentally change anything for student affairs other than the organizational chart?
Yes and no. The no part is that I don’t think it will diminish in any way the institution’s commitment to student support. In fact, I think the principal reason that the chancellor wanted to do this is so that the two major arms of the way we support students, the academic side of the house and the student support side of the house, can be more fully integrated and work together to support our student body.
So I’m excited about it. When we look at the way students come in, their success includes retention, graduation, time to graduation, but it’s more than that. It’s about their personal transformation in the time that they spend with us, not just the acquisition of knowledge and the getting of a degree. That transformation requires an effective integration of academic policy and student support.
(Laughs.) Not many. What I would tell you—and I’ve been largely in administration now for the last 10 or 11 years of my career, as a department head and dean and in the provost’s role—is that I think the similarities are attention to detail and persistence. Whether you’re in surgery or you’re in administration, making sure that you really understand what’s going on.
As a surgeon, you have to understand the disease process, the patient, the principles of surgery, and you learn that attention to detail is very important. And the same thing is true about administration.
I would say the difference is that surgery has a huge amount of instant gratification associated with it. I mean, you take a sick animal into the operating room and most of the time you come out, and you’ve fixed the problem. And I’ve had to learn, as an administrator, a lot more patience.
Now the payoffs are huge, in terms of the impact that you can make on people’s lives, with programs and the reputation of the institution. But the time scale is different and you have to learn to think about things a little differently.