A Q&A with the Chancellor and Provost

Eleni Batsios, Editor-in-chief

The campus is in a state of transformation. But what does this mean for the students? How can we get involved and have our voices heard? I sat down with Chancellor Dutta and Provost Feist-Price to discuss the Strategic Transformation Plan and the future of the University of Michigan-Flint.


B: So, Provost, I’m wondering what your role has been in the Strategic Transformation Plan. 


P: I am a member of the Steering Committee, which consists of the entire cabinet as well as all of the deans. And so anything related to academic affairs is under the umbrella of the Office of the Provost, and so I work with deans all the time and we’re constantly talking about what’s happening within their academic units – some of their successes as well as some of those areas that we’re working to improve. I really think innovation and transformation really didn’t just begin now. We’ve been having these conversations for a long time. Really ever since I’ve been here at UM-Flint just over two years ago. We’ve been talking about ways to innovate and transform and recruit more students, retain students and ensure that they graduate in a timely fashion.


B: I actually just heard that Tj was elected president of the Steering Committee, that’s the same thing as ITAC, so I guess I’m kind of wondering what the s committee does, why does Tj need to be part of this group?


P: So what we’ll be doing is really looking at the data. Knowing what we know about the university already, there will be a lot of data that will be provided to us and so we’ll look at the data, we’ll make meaning out of the data and then it’ll just allow us to make some better-informed decisions. 

But I will say that you can’t do your job and do it well without taking into consideration data. I mean, that’s just the world in which we live. And so, we’re always looking at the data. The deans and I, we’re looking at the data, we’re looking at it as it relates to the number of online and on campus, and how to create a more vibrant on-campus experience. The data will give us some indication of what’s happening. 


B: I think what’s causing a lot of “uncomfortableness” is this idea, whether accurate or not, that the administrators in charge here are very much data-driven, some people may think almost too data-driven. So, how are you going to plan the transformation thinking of the way this will impact the students that go here?


P: Qualitative information and quantitative information. Okay, so there-there will be a significant number of interviews. And Chancellor Dutta has been having a significant number of meetings with our students, faculty and our staff. So we’re getting the qualitative information, where people are sharing with us, and then we also have the quantitative information, looking at the numbers. But the reality is that, as an academic institution, the numbers matter. It would be great if we could function and not have to worry about revenue and number of students and so on. But the reality is that we have to pay attention because all of that information helps to inform the work that we do.


B: What happens when the qualitative data and the quantitative data don’t match up? Like, what if it’s: CAS is in a lot of debt, but a lot of students love the courses that they take in CAS?


P: If I had to be given an honest answer, my question would be: so if students love it so much, then why are there some courses with so few students in them? Because to me the love has to align with the students that are in the courses such that it’s evident. You know, it’s one thing if I say I love X, Y and Z. But then, if there’s no evidence of it – it’s a disconnect. And so I get when students are passionate about – and I’m passionate about – certain things. But then there has to be an alignment right where our passions, students’ passions about certain things, have to show that they are taking those classes, they’re enrolling in those programs. So there has to be some kind of alignment.


D: Yeah, that’s exactly right. These two have to come together. And you have to see the alignment if there is, or point out the misalignment.


B: I was wondering, Chancellor, what was going through your mind, when people like Alexiss Woodard and Jason, what was going through your mind when they came up to the regents meeting and gave their speeches?


D: With regard to Jason, he had a point. Yeah, I mean, there are people complaining about  Huron. But, as I have made it clear, Huron is not telling us what to do. Huron is doing the market analysis, and program analysis, and giving us that information. That will be a lot of quantitative information and through focus groups and everything else a lot of qualitative information. Huron’s engagement with us is for the purposes of doing this market analysis and program analysis work. And also engaging with our faculty, staff, students and alumni through surveys and focus groups. That’s their role, they are not going to tell us: you cut this program or grow that program – no, they’re not going to tell us that. We will have to make those decisions.


B: How can you convince people that the positive changes that will occur in the future are going to be better than the fear that people have right now? Because right now, people are asking “Am I going to have a job?” How can you convince these people that we are really just trying to- to stay relevant?


D: These are not job losses, these are opportunities that will become available through the transformation, and I would hope that our faculty, our staff and our lecturers will engage with us to create new opportunities that they see for themselves and actually then embrace those opportunities as personal, professional growth opportunities. So that’s how I see it. But I am not denying anybody’s feeling of stress. So you think I’m not stressed? But, that’s real life. That’s real life. Yes, there is stress and I wish I could do something about it. But I think what we are engaged in is going to create a better future for this institution, and for the faculty and staff of that institution for the purposes of the next generation of students.


P: I would just say that whenever there is change, for some people they see opportunity, it’s like, “Oh, my God, this is so exciting!” And then some people, they’re limited by fear. And so what we try to create is this excitement around the opportunity that will exist with the transformation. But, we all just react differently when it comes to change. For me, I don’t know what it is about my life but I always see change as an opportunity. It’s like, this will create some different opportunities and possibilities, and some people are just so fraught with fear that they can’t even begin to embrace the possibilities and opportunities. And sometimes I believe it’s a choice to see it as an opportunity versus “Oh, my God! The sky is falling.” No, it isn’t. I think we will have a better future than we have had in a very, very long time. Very long time. I mean, when you look at the years of decline, what other choices do we have but to innovate and transform? Unless we want to continue to shrink and decline, and then eventually – I’m seeing this, I don’t know, but eventually become invisible. What other choices do we have?