UTPA community welcomes provost/vice president for Academic Affairs candidates
Contact: University Relations 956/381-2741
Posted: 06/23/2006
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Five candidates for the second highest position - provost/vice president for Academic Affairs - at The University of Texas-Pan American were on campus this week, June 19-23, for the second round of interviews with UTPA administrators, faculty, staff and students.

Among the candidates up for the position, which was vacated by Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo in March, are as follows: Dr. Dennis Gayle, professor of Strategic International Business and senior adviser to the chancellor and vice chancellor, University of West Indies; Dr. Suzanne LaBrecque, vice provost and associate vice president, University of North Texas; Dr. Paul Sale, dean of Education and Human Development, Radford University (Va.); Dr. Raman "Unni" Unnikrishnan, dean of Engineering, California State University-Fullerton; and Dr. Waded Cruzado-Salas, dean of Arts and Humanities, New Mexico State University (NMSU).

A 15-member Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Search Committee made up of UTPA administrators, faculty, staff and students chose the five applicants out of an initial pool of 38 applicants.

"We are very pleased with the high caliber of candidates this search has produced," Dr. Salvador Ochoa, committee co-chair and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, said. "The committee is very excited since each of these five candidates has demonstrated strong academic leadership and has the potential to advance UTPA's mission."

- Dr. Dennis J. Gayle
Appearing before faculty, students, staff and the public at the first 90-minute open forum June 19 was Gayle, who also serves as the interim executive director of the University's Graduate Institute for International Relations.

Gayle, who earned his Ph.D. in international political economy from UCLA, previously served as the associate vice president for Academic Affairs and a tenured professor of International Economics at the University of North Florida (1999-2002). He also worked at Florida International University (FIU) as a senior research fellow and project director in the Office of Continuous Improvement as well as a director of Program Review. In addition, he was the founding chair of FIU's Department of Asian Studies. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and also spent nine years as a Jamaican Foreign Service Officer, serving in a number of responsible positions and in various locations including Paris and London.

Gayle said, while he "did not walk on water," his experience, particularly that gained as a fellow of the American Council of Education where he traveled to more than 100 universities worldwide and his graduation from the Harvard Institute of Educational Management, familiarized him with the types of challenges facing the University and provided the leadership skills necessary to create an academic culture that will allow the University to prosper in the community and fulfill its mission.

"As a university leader, I offer energy and enthusiasm in the pursuit of agreed strategic priorities such as improved student access and success, expanded research and leadership in the preparation and production of public school teachers," he said.

Gayle, who has authored six books and has a long list of honors and awards in his 32-page professional vita, said he had extensive experience in strategic planning and evaluation and in integrating new information technology into education and research. He also described some of his leadership principles and style, citing the importance of asking questions, maintaining a sense of humor, promoting diversity and inclusiveness and a belief in shared governance, collaboration and teamwork.

"A successful leader learns how to create a culture of celebration recognizing the contributions of all participating members toward the fulfillment of the University's mission so as to build a shared sense of purpose and commitment," he said.

When asked why he was specifically attracted to the position at UTPA, Gayle responded, "UTPA is in one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. It is located in a border region, which represents a good deal of what the United States is becoming. UTPA is on a cusp of change moving from a comprehensive master's to a teaching centered research university so that represents a series of interesting challenges which appeal to me. I am an effective change manager and academic entrepreneur. I never met an interesting academic challenge that I didn't enjoy."

LaBrecque was the second candidate to visit campus for the second round of interviews and meetings with the campus community June 20.

She opened the forum by saying as an administrator in a Texas university she was familiar with the many unfunded mandates and the challenges they presented to educational institutions, but offered optimism about UTPA's potential.

- Dr. Suzanne V. LaBrecque
"I think that we have to be as creative as we possibly can be and I think this place with your growth potential and the opportunity you have can make this University the biggest producer of Hispanic professionals in the nation just by the location of this Rio Grande Valley," LaBrecque said.

As UNT vice provost and associate vice president, LaBrecque, who has been with UNT since 1976, developed and approved the new University Core Curriculum and initiated the process of developing articulation agreements with all Texas Public Universities and community colleges for transfer students. She also designed a two-tiered Honors College; one for lower division students and one for upper division students so transfer students can participate in honors courses.

"I just want to make sure that you all know that just because I have spent my career at North Texas and I love that University, I would not try and override North Texas on UTPA. You are your own unique place with your own unique ways to meet your special needs," LaBrecque said.

LeBrecque has served the UNT as a faculty member - an assistant professor of child development in the School of Home Economics as well as a dean of the School. As dean she reorganized, renamed and repositioned the School to deliver applied business programs in hotel/restaurant management, fashion merchandising and home furnishings merchandising, and increased School endowments from less than $50,000 to over $3.5 million that included UNT's first endowed $1,500,000 chair.

The search for the next provost/vice president for academic affairs continued Wednesday, June 21 as the UTPA community had the opportunity to meet Sale, a first-generation college graduate, who earned his doctorate from the University of Georgia and both his bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University.

- Dr. Paul Sale
After briefly talking about his last six years at Radford University, Sale went on to explain his interest in being the next provost for UTPA.

"My next move needs to be a place where I can expand my leadership role and have some impact on the larger global community, and UTPA fits that role," Sale said.

During the forum, the provost candidate talked about why he believes UTPA is well positioned and can be a major player in some of the more national discussions that are occurring right now in the country - issues like homeland security, immigration, and other areas of national security.

"It (the University) is a hot place to be right now because of where UTPA is in its development. UTPA is in transformational form, and I'm looking forward to possibly working with faculty, working with students, and working with staff to transform the institution."

Sale's professional expertise is in the education of exceptional children and vocational rehabilitation of adults with disabilities. While at Radford, Sale has been instrumental in helping to expand the curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; manage enrollment growth; create a new School of Teacher Education and Leadership; and establish new faculty governance structures within the college.

Unnikrishnan was the fourth candidate to speak on campus June 22 and opened his remarks by telling the faculty why he wanted to come to UTPA.

"I've come up through the micro-levels of some of the mainstream universities in this country and I've been a visiting assistant professor, assistant professor, gone through the tenure process and came up into administration," he said. "I've had an opportunity to experience those different levels and now I want to lead a team."

He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Kerala in India, his master's from South Dakota State University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, all in electrical engineering.

- Dr. Raman "Unni" Unnikrishnan
Unnikrishnan first learned about UTPA when two of his students attended the Minority Serving Institutions Research Partnerships (MSIRP) Conference - a collaborative effort of institutions of higher learning, government agencies, business and industry and foundations to enhance their ability to create opportunities for contracts, grants and cooperative agreements - earlier this year.

Prior to joining Cal State Fullerton in 2001, Unnikrishnan was the head of the electrical engineering department at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York during 1991-2001. He is credited with placing the electrical engineering department as the second best among similar departments within the comprehensive universities.

"As an engineer I bring problem-solving, qualitative and analytical skills, but at the same time my experience has taught me to look at the needs of people," he said, noting he favored a decentralized management style that allowed not only autonomy, but focused on empowering faculty.

His professional contributions include teaching, research and writing in the areas of control systems, power electronics and engineering education. He has also been a consultant to industries and governmental agencies. Active nationally and internationally in the field of engineering accreditation, he has been an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) program evaluator.

"My experience with accreditation committees has allowed me to go to universities and get to know - as an evaluator - the inner workings of a college program by opening the books," he said.

According to the short biography he provided, in the past four years at Cal State Fullerton, new programs have been introduced, freshmen applications to the college have doubled, serious efforts to improve retention are underway and the links with the industrial community to the college have been significantly strengthened.

He said the provost position requires enthusiasm and he possesses it.

"I have some ideas and the willingness to enthusiastically learn the process and listen to people. I have a vision for the academy, but I also have the will to carry out that vision," he said.

The last candidate of the week was Cruzado-Salas, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Languages and Linguistics at NMSU, the only land-grant, Carnegie Research-I Extensive and Hispanic Serving Institution in the United States.

She thanked the audience of UTPA community members for their attendance in the last forum of the week.

- Dr. Waded Cruzado-Salas
"It's Friday and you are here, to me that speaks volumes about the commitment and passion you have for this University," Cruzado-Salas said. "Provosts can come and go, but it is you that make the institution the best that it can be."

Cruzado-Salas, a first-generation college graduate, oversees the largest academic unit at NMSU with 23 departments and two academic programs, 325 full-time faculty, 10 Ph.D. programs, 33 master level programs, and 37 undergraduate programs.

The mother of two said she never thought she'd be an administrator, but learned in this capacity she can help advance the cause of higher education and transform the institutions. Cruzado-Salas said she had heard about the University before applying to the position through a UTPA faculty member and was intrigued with the campus.

"When they nominated me for this position I decided to accept it. If nothing else it allowed me to educate myself on the things that are going on in the Valley and the potential that a young institution such as yours has. So I said to myself 'If I can develop my skills enough then I want to serve them.'"

Her previous administrative and academic experience was acquired at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) where she served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest unit within the 11-campus system of the University of Puerto Rico with 450 full-time faculty, 6,000 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students. She was also a professor in the Department of Humanities at UPRM.

The application review process for the position began in May and the initial 38 applicants were reduced to the top 10 applicants who subsequently participated in face-to-face interviews with the committee the first weekend of June. The committee, based on the in-depth interviews, conversations with references and further reviews of qualifications, unanimously recommended the five finalists to UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas. The final committee recommendations will be made to Cárdenas June 27.

To help with the search, UTPA hired Greenwood and Associates, Inc. to provide executive search services. The firm also assisted The University of Texas at San Antonio with its recent provost and vice president search.

As the chief academic officer, the provost/vice president for Academic Affairs reports to the president, serves as the senior officer in the president's absence, and serves as a member of the President's Executive Committee. Also, all the college deans; associate vice presidents for undergraduate studies, graduate studies and research; and all other academic units report to the provost/vice president for Academic Affairs.

In addition, the next UTPA provost/vice president will provide necessary guidance to the University as it implements "UTPA 2012," an ambitious 10-year plan that provides strategic direction for the University. The provost/vice president will also be involved in "UTPA 100," a commission including all the University's stakeholders that will produce a long-range vision for UTPA as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2027.

University administrators hope to have the new provost/vice president for Academic Affairs in place by the fall semester.

For more information on the provost/vice president search, contact Dr. Ala Qubbaj, committee co-chair and Faculty Senate chair, at 956/381-2394.