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Inside Iowa State
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June 29, 2001

Geoffroy: No. 1 land-grant goal is the right one

by Anne Krapfl
Gregory Geoffroy becomes Iowa States 14th president on July 1. Before he begins his leadership post, Inside Iowa State asked for some of his early thoughts on the university.

In late January, the presidency of Iowa State University probably looked pretty good to you. What are you thinking about your new job now?
Im still very excited about it and looking forward to July 1, when I arrive and officially take over. Iowa State is clearly one of the nations finest land-grant universities, and in spite of the current budget challenges, I do believe that the long-term prospects for the university are very good.

How can we (faculty and staff) help you in your transition to Iowa State?
Keep optimistic about the future and keep looking ahead. In spite of these difficult budget challenges, I think there are many exciting opportunities to pursue. I want to spend a lot of time meeting Iowa State people, so the first month is going to be a lot of getting to know you kinds of events.

Iowa State begins this new fiscal year some 210-plus positions lighter than it was 18 months ago (the result of two years of operating budget cuts from the state). What do you say to those employees who still have jobs and probably are juggling a few more duties?
I think its important that we try to recover those positions as soon as the economic situation turns around. But at the same time, we need to focus on trying to be more efficient in everything we do at the university. But that must be done without overloading the remaining members of the faculty and the staff. The university needs to identify its highest priorities and focus on those, and reduce activities that are of lesser importance.

There has been talk of a self-assessment at Iowa State in the next year or so, with an eye for retooling and reducing the number of programs it offers. Can you say more about your hopes for that process?
This process is being driven by a directive from the governor. He has asked for a detailed organizational review of all of state government. He has granted to the regents autonomy in conducting a similar assessment of the regents institutions, so each institution will undergo such an examination, probably with the assistance of external consultants, and focus on ways to improve efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. We'll be part of that effort. My thinking is that we will want to do that with a broad-based advisory committee of faculty, staff, students and administrators. We've begun to think about putting such a group together, and that will unfold over the summer.

Should Iowa State still be gunning to become the country's best land-grant school, or would you recommend a different goal to faculty and staff?
Absolutely. No question about it. It's the right goal for the university because of Iowa State's very strong land-grant mission. We should strive to be the very best we can in achieving every aspect of that mission.

How does Iowa State continue to improve, in spite of its smaller operating budgets?
It's not as easy to do as when budgets are better. But to improve, you simply have to identify the highest-priority programs and activities and focus on strengthening those and doing those as well as possible. It means we may have to narrow the scope of our ambitions a little. And there might be areas where we could be more efficient by combining activities, maybe with some selective trimming. At the same time, as we receive new resources (tuition income, state appropriations, private fund raising), we have to invest those selectively in our highest priority areas and look for opportunities to reallocate resources and make sure those are used well.

University presidents are called upon more and more to be their schools lead fund-raisers. How do you feel in that role?
I like it very much, especially since private fund raising is so important in supplementing the resources provided by the state and through tuition and fees. Through the fund-raising enterprise, I will have the opportunity to work with people who have a real fondness for Iowa State. It's also a wonderful opportunity to sell the university, to talk about the really terrific things that are going on and the future prospects. I find fund raising to be very stimulating and fun.

Does fund raising detract from leading?
Not necessarily. I think there's no one else who can do it. The foundation staff assists and plays an important role, but ultimately, major donors are going to want to see the president.

Regarding leading, a president must assemble a good team of vice presidents and others who report to the president to insure that the presidents vision and goals are achieved and that the campus is managed well and run efficiently. The president should not be a micro-manager of the campus.

What's at the top of your to do list between now and the winter holiday break?
I really want to focus on doing what we can to start building larger numbers of strong academic programs at the university, and that means looking for opportunities for that to occur. One initiative that must remain front and center is the plant sciences initiative. That is very important for the university and it will remain a priority. I've got several ideas for some other areas we'll want to talk about and see how they fit. The ultimate goal needs to be to build strong academic programs that are aligned with our land-grant mission. Strong academic programs have great faculty and great students. If you have those, everything else falls into place.

Rumor has it that you keep a wireless computer handy. Is this true?
That's correct, all the time. The only computer I use is a laptop. I take it everywhere with me home, on the road, to the office, although I don't carry it with me to meetings. I check my e-mail frequently when I'm traveling, and several times a day when I'm in the office. I plan to use the same kind of system when I get to Iowa State.

Can a student receive just as good an education online as in a lecture hall?
The short answer is It depends. I think that the level of interaction on the Internet is such, that a student can learn effectively from online courses if those courses are well-structured, involving online chats with other course participants and frequent e-mail dialogue with the professor, etc. In some cases, you could argue online courses could be much more effective than a student sitting in a lecture hall with 400 other students and just listening to the professor speak.

On the other hand, if you compare an online course with a small seminar of, say, 15 students that get together three times a week to discuss important topics, it's going to be hard for an online course to duplicate that experience. It depends on what you're comparing and the effectiveness of the communications both among the students in the course and with the professor.

Online courses are a way to provide access to education to students who can't come to campus. For the right courses and the right students, it can be effective.

What role can research play in an undergraduates education? Have you involved undergraduate students in your research programs in the past?
All students benefit from hands-on training and use of what they learn in the classroom. Be it internship programs, or the opportunity to work with faculty on research programs, all really provide the direct excitement and real-world application of what students are learning in the classroom. I very strongly believe that those kinds of experiences terrifically enrich the undergraduate educational experience.

I've probably had 75 undergraduates work in my research group over the years. My research required a lot of my direct involvement with the graduate students, undergraduate students and post-doctoral scholars on the team. As provost and certainly as president, it really hasn't been possible for me to have that kind of program and I miss interacting with them in that setting. It was just a lot of fun.

What are a president's opportunities for interacting with students?
You have to seek them out. At Iowa State, the President's Leadership Class is a wonderful way to meet students, and there also are the regular meetings with student leaders. But I intend to find lots of opportunities to interact informally with students. For example, one of my goals is to eat in every place on campus where one can eat, and use that as an opportunity to have informal interactions with people. I'll look for all kinds of occasions to do things like that. I think it's important to interact with members of the university community in these kinds of less-structured environments, as well as the more structured ones.

What do people seem to have more trouble with, spelling your name correctly or pronouncing it correctly?
They have more trouble pronouncing it, but it also is misspelled a fair bit. Kathy and I have both been impressed that almost everyone at Iowa State has pronounced it correctly.

Have you checked the progress on The Knoll? How will you and your wife use the facility?
I didn't get inside during our last visit (June 7-9). We really intend to open The Knoll as much as possible to the university community, and seek opportunities to have people over to the house. Certainly it will be used for fund-raising events. It really is a university facility and we want to treat it like that.

We've never lived on a campus, either as students or with my university jobs. It will be fun.

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