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July 11, 2013

New provost takes office, sets sights on challenges

By Patrick Elder

After a long and arduous search process involving more than 60 considered candidates, Cleveland State University’s vacant provost position has finally been filled. Dr. Deirdre Mageean, now with a week in the position under her belt, is learning on the fly as the fall semester quickly approaches.

“I’ve been meeting with a lot of people and getting familiar with my own team, getting a lay of the land so that I don’t get lost,” Mageean said. “Beginning to get a sense for all the things we have to work on in the semester – new hires, budgets, all those good things. Everyone’s made me very welcome. People are very pleasant here, so it’s been a very nice experience overall so far.”

New provost, Dr. Deirdre Mageean

She’s hoping her pleasant experience carries over as her schedule begins to fill up. In the coming weeks she’ll be focusing on her first priority: allocating all the faculty and staff positions so that the deans can make hires for next year.

“That’s one of the biggest priorities,” Mageean said. “Then there’s all the things I inherit that are still ongoing. There’ll be the issues of the changes in the credit hours and the curriculum, all of the things that preceded me which obviously continue. But really, it’s getting to speak with the deans and getting to know their priorities for the coming year so we can all start moving ahead strategically.”

The issues with the impending conversion from four to three credit hour classes are a topic that generated much controversy after its announcement. Mageean acknowledged that there may be some difficulties, but that everything appears to be going smoothly at this stage of the process.

“That obviously is a major continuing issue,” Mageean said. “I know that the departments have been getting their plans in and are doing very, very well.”

The conversion has come under fire from many, both because of the change itself and the suddenness of its announcement and intended implementation. Mageean, however, sees the change as a necessity – something that should have happened long ago.

“Frankly, I’d never come across four-credit courses before at any of my other university experiences,” Mageean said. “It seems that probably, in retrospect, something that should have been done with the move from the quarter system to the semester system. So it’s a little more difficult for us to do it now compared to those universities that did it in the past.

“I think it makes a lot of sense. Particularly for those transferring in or moving out it should be easier overall. In the end we will end up with a system that works well for students and for faculty, and that’s the goal.”

The change in credit hours coincides with a change in the demographics of the university. As the student body shifts to more traditional students coming straight out of high school, the needs of the students are shifting. Mageean recognizes this, but also knows that Cleveland State can’t forget about its non-traditional students.

“I think that the nature of jobs now, the way in which they change, that education is becoming a life-long process,” Mageean said. “People will be coming back constantly to upgrade their skills, to shift gears, and so I think we need to offer the kind of curriculum that’s responsive to all of those needs, and be sensitive to the needs of those different demographics in the student body.”

Mageean began her work in universities with non-traditional students, so she has the requisite experience to fulfill those needs. As the university shifts to a more residential campus, she said there will be a more concerted effort to improve on-campus facilities.

Mageean is enthused about the shift to a more residential campus because of the academic benefits it brings. According to her, research shows that students – particularly freshman and sophomores – do better academically when living on campus.
This perfectly complements the university’s desire to improve its focus on teaching, when over the years it has mostly focused on research. However, improved teaching does not have to come at the cost of lessened research.

“I see the research as something which complements that, which informs the teaching and energizes it,” Mageean said. “I think if students see that professors are energized by their own scholarship and get a chance to share in that experience, be it in a lab or out in the field or in a performance studio, that makes that student’s learning so much more vital and exciting and maintains that student’s love for learning.

“I think all of us who have been faculty are in a constant learning process as well. We have to make sure that the resources are there for our faculty who feel like they would like to upgrade their skills to embark on something new. We’re here to make sure that our students have success careers, but also to make sure our faculty have successful careers.”

Mageean believes that students do well when teachers do well. Her efforts to improve the graduation and retention rates at Cleveland State will not only focus on better helping students, but also providing more resources to teachers.

“I think that’s a constant endeavor,” Mageean said. “We’re constantly looking at what’s working, what combinations of things work best. So we’re doing new initiatives and monitoring those initiatives to see how they’re succeeding. We recognize that it’s not just one thing, it’s several things working in tandem that allows students to work well.”

Despite all the challenges facing Mageean so soon after her arrival, she is looking forward to the opportunity to face them head on. She’s been received warmly and shown just how supportive the community is of this university.

“I’ll have a sharp and quick learning curve to jump on here,” Mageean said. “I’m really impressed by the team of people in my own division. I’m impressed by the faculty and the students, and I’m really impressed by the support this university has in the community. There’s real excitement and support of the university, and it’s terrific to have that.