Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
July 2, 1999

New provost says he's a scholar at heart

by Anne Dolan

Rollin Richmond, Iowa State's new provost, believes leadership involves serving people, is excited about coming to a land-grant school and calls tenure expensive, but at the heart of what makes American higher education successful. He also hopes to find a few new racquetball partners in Ames.

Richmond, a geneticist who has served since 1995 as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, was named Iowa State provost June 18. He will begin in the post Sept. 15.

"I'm looking forward very much to being at Iowa State," he said last week via phone from the Stony Brook campus on Long Island. "I am at heart a scholar and I look forward to being as strong a proponent as I can for the academic side of the university."

Richmond said the state of Iowa's dedication to higher education, philosophically and financially, is part of what drew him to Iowa State. The university's goal of becoming the country's best land-grant school also attracted him, as did its international research reputation, Carnegie I status and the strong leadership of President Martin Jischke.

"There's such consistency of funding for higher education in Iowa that you can plan for years into the future," Richmond said. "Iowa State's vision to become the best land-grant university is a difficult one, but attainable, because of this."

He said he's especially interested in the potential for ISU Extension to get involved in distance education, particularly for the escalating number of "non-traditional" students.

"Often that population wants a certificate program, not necessarily a four-year degree, and that's the best kind of education to deliver over the Internet," he said. "At Iowa State, you have a wonderful system and people in place to deliver that, in ways other universities simply can't."

While the Internet, long-distance live education and other innovations have changed some of the ways universities do business, with mostly positive results, Richmond said technology can't replace college campuses.

"I don't know what else is coming; I don't think anyone really can know that, but the college campus wont die because of the importance of certain qualities of the undergraduate experience," Richmond said.

Ideally, that experience should teach students how to assess information; think critically; solve many kinds of problems -- in life, not just in school; develop standards and expectations for themselves; learn from other students and not just from faculty; live independently; appreciate the intellectual power of really creative people; and just have fun, he said.

You can't get some of these experiences from a person on a computer screen, he noted.

Faculty tenure

Tenure, Richmond said, is one of the reasons American higher education is so successful and so respected. It preserves the right of "very creative faculty" to be creative, and protects them from retribution, whether from inside or outside the university, he added.

He said tenure is expensive, but because of the expense, it is taken seriously and is a good method for assuring a quality faculty.

Post-tenure review, approved at Iowa State this spring (by the faculty) and summer (Board of Regents), probably is overdue, Richmond said.

"I believe no life should go unexamined for long," he said. "If used as a means for faculty development and not punitively -- which is the way I think you're going at Iowa State -- post-tenure review is extremely productive.

"What faculty really want is to do work that gains them respect from their colleagues," Richmond said. He acknowledged the process takes time and energy, but also noted he hopes departments, as they establish their own procedures for post-tenure review, include it in the existing annual review system, "with a different level of rigor."


A self-described "consultative, collaborative" administrator, Richmond said he prefers to believe nearly any objective is achievable if you stop to figure out how to make it happen. He said most recently he has been influenced by Robert Greenleaf's book, On Becoming a Servant-Leader.

"I believe that leadership involves serving people. Some people in administration don't know that," he said. "The greatest compliment anyone can give me is, He helped me achieve my goal."

Richmond and his wife, Ann Richmond, have four children, the youngest of whom is a junior this fall at Indiana University. Away from the office, he said he enjoys spending time with his family, reading a wide range of topics and authors, traveling, corresponding with family members and friends -- and playing racquetball, when he can make the time.

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