Kate Miller spent two days at the University of Wyoming campus interviewing for the open provost and vice president for academic affairs position, ending the trip with a faculty question-and-answer session.
Miller is currently dean of the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University after joining the faculty in 2009. She spent 18 years before that at the University of Texas at El Paso.
UW’s budget cuts are not new to Miller, who said she’s had experience making tough calls, having to make a 5 percent cut to her college, followed by a 10 percent cut.
“Don’t waste a crisis,” she said. “Budget cuts really force you to look hard at priorities and, as hard as it is, in the end that’s a good thing. One way or another, you’re going to find a way out of the troubled times you’re in right now, and there’s a bright future to this university.”
UW administration has begun program reviews to reduce spending. Once completed, departments could be restructured, eliminated or advised to increase enrollment or research. Miller explained how she would go about a review process.
“I would anticipate coming up with a set of principles that would help guide deans to set up their initial priorities,” she said. “I would work with the president to figure out some centralized goals we have — one could be preserving strong programs that make a big difference to students. That could be high enrollment or a support role. It could mean we are going to prioritize graduate student funding over staff support while we work through the cuts to continue to support our mission, which is teaching students.”
Finding other ways to raise money is important, and Miller said private fundraising and gifts could make a difference.
“We all know we need to diversify the income at universities, and private donors can be especially helpful,” she said. “Raising scholarship money and fellowship money speaks very well for donors. Then, there are oftentimes projects that really capture a donor’s imagination.”
She used Texas A&M’s atmospheric sciences program as an example.
“We have this radar dish on the top of the building we’re in,” she said. “It’s old and kind of faulty. So, my atmospheric scientists really want a new radar, but you can’t just go and say, ‘Hi donor, I want a new radar.’
“But you can tell a donor a story — wouldn’t it be cool if we could build a mobile lab where we had a radar we could take it in the field anywhere,” Miller continued. “That’s a story you can talk to a donor about.”
Miller also has experience increasing diversity on campus, working with minority faculty and students during her time in Texas.
“The University of Texas at El Paso is 75 percent Mexican-American,” she said. “It was about getting first-generation college students, predominantly Mexican-American, in through college, especially in STEM degrees. We targeted high-quality high schools that were predominantly minorities, and we recruited heavily.”
Working with these students taught Miller how to help minority students work through the programs and graduate, she said.
“There’s nothing like hiring a faculty member who looks like the students,” she said. “We were extraordinarily proactive about searching for faculty members who would be representative of our student body.”
As for leadership, micromanaging isn’t a good way to perform the provost role, Miller said.
“I expect my people to do their job and, if people have questions, they can ask me,” she said. “I don’t like it when people go around me, and I won’t go around other people. If a faculty member goes around their dean or faculty head to me, I’ll say, ‘Glad to talk with you, I have an open-door policy, but know that, in a broad sense, I’m going to tell the dean what our conversation was about and why I think it’s important.”
Raising an institution’s stature is another important topic, and Miller explained there are several ways to go about growing a reputation.
“You have to look at where the strengths are and look at them in the context of funding and where research is going,” she said. “For a land grant institution, is that area strengthening a local economy. You also have to look at what the next big thing is going to be 10 years from now, and what we should be doing to get there.”