A scholar with two advanced degrees from The University of Iowa, Michael Hogan returned to campus in July to assume the position of provost. Hogan most recently was the executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University. In addition to his position as provost, Hogan has an appointment as a professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
What exactly does a provost do?
A provost is the chief academic officer of the University and reports directly to the president. The provost oversees all academic units and programs, including all colleges, and is responsible for strategic planning and affirmative action; for the appointment, tenure, and promotion of faculty; and for the quality of research and educational programs. A simpler way to put it is that the provost is the chief advocate for the academic needs of students and the champion of faculty rights and responsibilities.
What does your work mean to undergraduates?
The principal concern of the provost is with the quality of the academic programs available to our students—the curricular programs, the quality of majors and minors, and the instructional technology, to give just three examples. But I think a good provost also is concerned with the whole experience of student life: not just what goes on in the classrooms, the library, the laboratory, or the studio, but also the quality of life in the residence halls, for example, or with the recreational facilities. There are other people responsible for the nonacademic part of the student experience, of course, most notably the vice president for student affairs, but in my view a good provost has to be concerned with the whole student experience.
What kind of contact do you have with undergrads? What courses are you teaching or do you plan to teach?
I’m hoping to do some undergraduate teaching after my first year on the job, perhaps one of the First-Year Seminars I would like to see relaunched in the spring semester. I also expect to have regular meetings with student representatives and a lot of exposure to students in a variety of formats. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
What are the qualities of a good university professor?
I think the two principal qualities are curiosity and generosity. You don’t become a university professor unless you’re interested in knowing and learning, and you can’t possibly be a good teacher unless you’re interested in sharing what you’ve learned, both through research and publications and through academic advising and teaching.
How do class size and stagnant salaries affect teaching at a university?
First, if our salaries stagnate and continue to decline by comparison with our peer group, it’s going to get more and more difficult to recruit and retain the best faculty. If we have a second-class professoriate, we’re going to be delivering a second-class education.
Secondly, the quality of our research will go down. Even though this is a major research university, faculty teach, and if they’re forced to choose between research and teaching, they’re likely to disinvest themselves of research time in order to spend more time with students. For example, there are some professors here who are entitled to take a research leave of absence but don’t feel they can do it, because there’s too much need for their services in the classroom. I admire faculty who are so devoted to their students that they’ll forgo a research opportunity. But from an institutional point of view, it’s disastrous because they’ll fall behind on their research.
Students who come here are exposed to faculty on the cutting edge of research. That’s the value added of a major teaching and research university like The University of Iowa. If we don’t deliver that, then we’re just another college. I don’t want faculty to be forgoing their research. I want to encourage and celebrate that research, and do whatever I can to support it. From that research comes the classroom lectures of tomorrow.
What are your immediate and long-range goals?
First, we’ve got this financial problem we have to get our minds around. We have to replenish our faculty so we can get class size under control and offer courses with normal frequency so that our students can graduate in a normal period of time. We have to get faculty salaries up and reinvigorate research support so we can recruit and retain the best faculty and be competitive in the national academic market.
Second, I think
it’s important for us to take a comprehensive look
at what we’re doing at the undergraduate level. We have good, quality
undergraduate programs here, but I want to make sure that we provide
the very best academic experience for our undergraduate students. Since
Iowans are paying a good deal for their education, both in tax dollars
and in tuition, we have a responsibility to provide a high-quality undergraduate
experience and send those students out to Iowa communities.
What is the status of the four-year graduation plan?
It’s still intact and we’re still committed to it. But it gets to be more and more challenging when we have fewer faculty members and 2,000 to 3,000 more students on campus than we had just four or five years ago. It’s getting very difficult to put sufficient teaching resources out there in order to move students through our academic programs in four years.
Some students and parents are concerned about the quality of teaching assistants on campus. What are your thoughts?
I was a teaching
assistant at The University of Iowa in the history department, and
I believe from my own experience and from what I know
as provost that our teaching assistants are well prepared for their assignments.
Teaching assistants spend most of their time with first-year students,
and they usually have more education than the high school faculty who
were teaching the same students the year before. They have their BA and
their MA degrees and are likely enrolled in a PhD program. Educationally,
they are very much on top of the subject matter we ask them to teach.
Our responsibility is to make sure that they’re also prepared to
teach, that they’ve gone through some kind of teacher preparation
program before they become fully responsible for their own course and
classroom. We do a good job of that, I think. For many teaching assistants,
their classroom experience is graduated. They begin as a grader, for
example, working with a faculty member. Then they become a discussion
leader, running recitation sections. Only after that are they given full
responsibility for offering lectures or running their own classroom—and
even then they are under continuous faculty supervision with regular