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Mearns’ tenure as provost has included budget fixes, contract negotiations

October 27, 2011

By Howard Primer

The provost’s area on the third floor of the Administration Center isn’t just clean in a way one would expect from a place of business. It is open-house immaculate, down to the properly stacked coasters in the spotless conference room.

Geoffrey S. Mearns, who has been Cleveland State’s provost on an interim and full-time basis since Feb. 2010, deflects credit to receptionist Karen Locker. But ask those who work with him, and they’ll tell you it starts at the top.

“Oh, he is very organized,” said Carmen A. Brown, vice president for enrollment services and, with Mearns, a member of the student success committee.

“That’s his style,” said Senior Adviser to the President for Government Relations William A. Napier, whose office is down the hall.

Mearns was “thrown into the deep end” as he calls it, with CSU facing budget issues and personnel changes. The university is also focusing on improving the graduation rate for first-time, full-time students. It is doing so in part because State Share of Instruction funding will be increasingly tied to this number.

Mearns, whose salary is $262,382, discussed his tenure, in which he oversees seven colleges, one school and the library, in an interview with The Cleveland Stater.

“I didn’t anticipate the number of people that I had to meet with on a regular basis, how little time I have during the day to read and think,” he said. “Days tend to fill up with lots of meetings and conversations and tending to email. One thing I think I need to do better is build more opportunities into my schedule to think more, and read more.”

Budget cuts were the biggest challenge for CSU in the past year. Mearns and other members of the university leadership made many tough decisions to deal with the loss of state and federal stimulus money.

“I knew there was a real human toll behind the decisions we were making,” Mearns said. “That was not pleasant. It was necessary. It wasn’t pleasant.”

He added that the university’s financial picture appears stable, “and as a result we’re able to continue to invest in academic infrastructure. That is, hiring new faculty and new people to support academic programs. The university financial situation is healthy.”

Mearns’ job duties don’t call for him to directly deal with students, but he tries to get out of his office and walk the campus.

“Last spring, I taught a class in the law school so I can keep my hand and my head in what is the core activity of the university,” Mearns said. “It added to my workload, but added in a way that was rewarding and enjoyable.”

Mearns’ law background gave him a different perspective on the provost job, which Napier said was an asset.

“Having a different background in justice suits him well,” Napier said. “Being a provost, you have to have a lot of skills. He is smart, and he has a background working with people and negotiating. He knows what he wants to do and how to get there.”

The background in negotiating came into play during one of the other important marks of Mearns’ tenure to date, when the administration agreed to a three-year labor contract with the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. For example, one of the issues involved the percentage of lecturers to tenure-track faculty increasing from 10 to 20 percent, which Mearns said will reduce reliance on visiting and part-time faculty.

“It was an important point for us,” Mearns said. “I suspect that there are some members of the faculty and the AAUP who have concerns about it. We will have to maintain communication to understand how this can be a constructive solution to the challenges we face.”

Jeff Karem, president of CSU-AAUP, said: “The CSU-AAUP found Provost Mearns to be a forthright and fair partner during the bargaining process, and we hope that this relationship carries forward in the implementation of the new contract.”

Mearns echoed Karem on the bargaining process and added, “(Karem) and I don’t always see eye to eye on some of the issues. But he and his colleagues at AAUP, I’ve been impressed with how they have approached these issues of, ‘How do we find a mutually acceptable solution?”

Mearns and the administration are working with the Faculty Senate’s student success committee to improve the graduation rate.

The provost wing’s conference room does have one flaw. The head spot at the table has some indentations in it, from a pen being repeatedly tapped.

Mearns quickly accounted for the defect, saying, “That’s not mine. Those are not from me.”

For more on Mearns’ running career and his support of CSU’s cross country team, go to hpclevelandstater.wordpress.com