Five candidates for the position of provost and vice president of academic affairs at Slippery Rock University will visit campus in November. As part of their visits, each candidate will deliver a public presentation and answer questions during an open session.
The fourth candidate, Dr. Nathan Klingbeil from Wright State University, or “Candidate D,” visited campus on Thursday in the Smith Student Center, room 321. Klingbeil presented to students, faculty and community members his ideas about a sustainable model for value and relevance in American public higher education.
Before beginning his presentation, Klingbeil began by discussing his background. He obtained his PhD in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Melon University, and he previously served as the dean of the college of engineering and computer science at Wright State University for 21 years.
Klingbeil began by commending SRU for what they do already and explains that it is the current students and staff that are capable of utilizing this sustainability model to better American public higher education.
“This is the land of opportunity,” Klingbeil said. “The world’s best students: some of them attend Slippery Rock University right now.”
He said that he does a lot of work in higher education around student success and has seen different business models across the country, specifically in engineering and STEM disciplines, but none of which are like the ones at Slippery Rock.
“I have not seen a place in the entire United States that I believe is a better candidate to demonstrate a sustainable model for value and relevance in American public higher education,” Klingbeil said.
Klingbeil then moved his focus to a novel to provide an example of the value of what he was discussing.
College For The Commonwealth: A Case for Higher Education in American Democracy by Michael T. Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, and Hal R. Boyd discusses the increasing public concern over the cost of a college degree and the increasing societal need for access and affordability.
“This is an existential challenge in America right now,” Klingbeil said. “In an effort to address that, we have presidents of universities writing books to make an argument for the value of education.”
After speaking about his own experiences with his students at Wright State University, he expressed the importance of students’ abilities outside of their academics.
“What distinguishes the students that get hired from the ones that don’t is all the rest of it,” Klingbeil said. “It’s their ability to think critically, to work in teams, to articulate their ideas.”
He then shifts topics to the relevance of higher education, but specifically internationalization and studying abroad. He said that we are producing educated citizenry, and it is a global world with a global economy and global problems; the longer we are all here, the smaller the planet is getting.
“It is our responsibility to get the viewpoints and the diversity of thought and opinion that comes from all the cultures of the world,” Klingbeil said. “The extent that we can internationalize the campus through diverse exchange programs that brings students from all types of backgrounds and experiences to interact in the classrooms here at Slippery Rock, everybody benefits from that.”
Klingbeil then mentions how SRU must have a commitment to diversity and inclusion. He said that a regional comprehensive institution should seek to have a graduating class of students that represents the demographics of the communities they serve.
“We cannot solve the challenges of the world without diverse thought,” Klingbeil said.
Klingbeil then explains what he thinks should be the main focus of the provost and how this benefits the university.
“I believe the role of the provost is to take all of this, which falls at least in some way under the academic mission of the institution, and then to work with the rest of the university leadership and the state system to demonstrate how [these goals] both impacts and sustains the business model that drives the institution,” Klingbeil said.
One of Klingbeil’s main points was that in order to sustain the business model and these goals, the university and the provost must spend an unwavering focus on student success and create a transparent and collaborative shared governance.
“I believe this institution has the things required in place, most notably a culture where student success is the very first priority,” Klingbeil said.
He also mentioned the Troops to Teachers program toward the end of the presentation.
“It is a great opportunity to go after revenue streams that you may have not had otherwise, with students that are automatically hard working and committed, and quite frankly have their tuition already paid by our own federal tax dollars,” Klingbeil said. “It is brilliant.”
During the question and answers session, a question was asked about the mental health issues of students and how to handle those situations.
“This generation of students are the most mentally strained of any of the previous generations,” Klingbeil said. “The constant access of information and social media and the phone in the face all the time, the kinds of things that can distract somebody mentally and emotionally, are a lot worse than what you and I dealt with when we were in college.”
Klingbeil said at Wright State University there is an office of disability services, and students are able to register with disability services if ongoing mental health issues are present.
He also said that when he was at lunch with the SRU president, William J. Behre, they had discussed this issue of the continuing stigma around mental health.
“There is still a lot of stigma in society about mental health,” Klingbeil said. “I do recognize that that is a big issue, and there probably is a big percentage of the 33 percent of [students] that don’t earn a degree related to their experiences from a mental health standpoint.”
Klingbeil also expresses the importance of the fine arts at universities like Slippery Rock and their positive influences on higher education, as he studied violin and was the concert master of his college orchestra. He said he has a great appreciation of the arts.
Among the questions asked in the open session was about what he thought his biggest challenge or problem would be if he was selected as the provost for SRU. He said that the position would keep him busy for a long time.
“I believe there is so much opportunity here,” Klingbeil said. “The biggest problem I am going to have if I become the provost here is deciding where to start first.”