Aug 21, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
I am entering my 10th year as the provost of Georgia Tech, unquestionably a long time — at least compared to the typical lifespan of a provost. Throughout all those years there has been one constant: I am never bored. Despite the stereotypical view of higher education, and despite the unavoidable complexity, Georgia Tech is a fairly nimble organization. Last year, the president of another Association of American Universities (AAU) member university asked me, “How would you describe the key trait that allows Georgia Tech to do things that others take much longer or cannot do?”
I answered with three words: We are scrappy. And, I should add, proud of it. She agreed.
Allow me then to share my aspirations for my 10th year. I have defined a series of goals for the Office of the Provost. These have evolved over time but have not dramatically changed. The goals are:
- Continue the rise in overall reputational rankings.
- Increase reputation and size of graduate programs, especially in areas that establish strength in creating science, technology, and engineering leaders.
- Differentiate undergraduate education and enhance the student experience.
- Diversify and strengthen research support.
- Create financial incentives and models to optimize resources in the evolving economic climate.
We will use five broad strategies to achieve these goals:
- Define uniqueness
- Revenue generation and rewards
- Focus on excellence
- Increasing focus on graduate education
It should be evident to those who have followed our activities in the past few years that we have been following those strategies, and moving toward the goals in a steady and consistent fashion. From the Commission on the Creating the Next in Education, to Online Master of Science programs, and from improved quality of students and parity in graduate and undergraduate students, to the new campus in China — it all fits the strategy.
So, what’s next? The list is long, and I will touch on what I think is most important.
- Although our average faculty salaries are largely within the peer average range, the fact is that our distribution is too narrow. We are under increasing pressure to retain our very best. This year the state provided some funds, and with our own targeted resources we have been trying to take some corrective action. We have a long way to go, but the issue is broadly recognized.
- The quality of our undergraduates is extraordinary. We compete with the best, but increasingly we are becoming an institution for the wealthy. We must provide more financial aid. We are halfway, in money and time, into an initiative to raise $150 million of additional student financial aid. Again, that is just the beginning.
- Our graduate student population, particularly at the Ph.D. level, is uneven in numbers and quality across the Institute. As the graduate student leadership reminds me, part of the problem is that stipends for research assistants are also falling behind. It is easy to trivialize this problem, but the solutions are difficult. GRA stipends at the Ph.D. level are largely paid by faculty out of research grants; they must be part of the solution. Free tuition is not a viable option. The budget needs that income to sustain the mission, unless we are willing to sacrifice some of what we get and offer. A reduction in fees is desired, and we have worked with the University System of Georgia (USG) to bring those down over the past few years. The fee revenues represent real money in the budget. As we reduce the fees and the burden on the students, that funding in the budget needs to be balanced by additional income, reallocations, or cuts elsewhere. The bottom line, though, is that this is a concern that needs to be addressed.
- Our advising system is simply not up to the challenge of who we are today. The Academic Advising Task Force provided several recommendations, and we are intent on implementing most of them.
- Library Next will define the intellectual and physical center of Georgia Tech. The buildings will be completed by next summer, but we need to make sure that the technology and programming that go with them are in place.
- Georgia Tech-Shenzhen is moving fast. We have to ensure a successful implementation, cognizant of the challenges that relationships with China pose, but also recognizing the incredible opportunity that this will represent for our students through study, work, service, and research.
- A year ago, we launched the third in the Online Master of Science series. OMS Cybersecurity is moving close to its target, but we must make sure it succeeds, with quality, as the others have done. It is also time to think of the next five years and the appropriate partnerships and business models.
- Finally, as the leadership reaches the end of a very stable decade, we need to recruit new blood that follows their example of excellence. We will be seeking a new dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and a dean of Libraries to further develop the Library Next concept.
I think you now understand why I never get bored and why I have enjoyed this job so much. I hope you join me in the fun this new academic year.
- Rafael L. Bras