The three finalists for executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, Nancy Rapoport, William Tate and John Wiencek, discussed mental health, diversity and other topics during their campus visits.
According to USC’s website, the provost is the second-ranking officer at the university, and the position’s duties include “curriculum development, program assessment, establishment of academic standards in the schools and colleges, and university accreditation.”
While each candidate was on campus, they participated in both an open forum and a meeting with student leaders. President Bob Caslen is expected to choose the new provost by late March.
Rapoport is currently the Garman Turner Gordon Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' William S. Boyd School of Law and an affiliate professor of business law and ethics at UNLV. She also served as the acting executive vice president and provost at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, from 2015 to 2016.
Rapoport said the number one problem affecting students is “well-being.”
“If I had to capture it in one word, I want to make sure that the campus is as healthy as it can be and as safe as it can be,” Rapoport said.
With mental health, Rapoport said universities need to focus their money on “pressure points.”
“Some of them are student pressure points. Some of them are faculty and staff pressure points. Some of them are infrastructure pressure points, and so you have to figure out both urgent needs, important needs and then how to fund things.”
To get an understanding of student issues and concerns, Rapoport said she wants to communicate directly with students.
“There's no substitute for going where the students are. I come from a tradition where people meet with students so that students can just drop by,” Rapoport said.
Rapoport said "trust and transparency" are the most important traits a leader can have.
"When there's no trust, there's no sharing of information, there's no sharing of information, the decisions are worse," Rapoport said.
Tate, who was also a candidate in USC's presidential search, is currently dean and vice provost of graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis.
Tate said mental health is particularly important when students are transitioning between undergraduate and graduate studies.
“That isolation leads to really a lot of stress and anxiety. And so, I think that's a critical part of what has to be dealt with. And we need a public health perspective on prevention in graduate education related to mental health,” Tate said.
At the meeting with student leaders, Tate spoke about how he facilitates communication between higher levels of administration and students at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I formalize the information flow with the grad students at Wash U and said, ‘Every year I'd like you to get together, think about what your experience was like, and then give me some priorities to work on for the next year.’ And then we work on them all year long,” Tate said.
Tate also commented on contingent faculty, which is faculty appointed off the tenure track.
“In terms of building an economic model on contingent faculty, I, it breaks my heart,” Tate said. “I don't think it is [an] optimal way for students to learn.”
Tate said, if he was chosen, he and Caslen would “work together to make the very best South Carolina we can make.”
Wiencek is currently the executive vice president and provost at the University of Idaho, Idaho's flagship university.
“I think you would benefit tremendously from proven leadership, especially at a moment where you’re fragile now, and it’s important to have the momentum that you do have carry forward,” Wiencek said.
Wiencek said his number one priority as provost would be diversity.
“I'm very interested personally, in the diversity questions and educating, you know, our majority faculty, our white faculty, around the issues of diversity, to have more understanding of why this is important,” Wiencek said.
Wiencek also outlined his plan for promoting USC’s research efforts more broadly.
“So picking areas of distinction, hiring excellent faculty, supporting your grad students who often bring these creative ideas to bear and postdocs and staff. So this is about having the right people doing the right things,” Wiencek said.
Wiencek cited student success initiatives, like University 101, as one of USC’s strong points, while also discussing areas for improvement.
“I think the retention rates need to go a bit higher and the graduation rates need to go a bit higher,” Wiencek said.
Editor’s Note: Erin Slowey, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Gamecock, attended the student leader meetings with each of the candidates in her official capacity as editor-in-chief. Slowey did not vote or express any opinions about the candidates. Camdyn Bruce and Christian Phillips contributed to the reporting of this article.