Iowa State University nameplate

Inside Iowa State
Gold bar
January 31, 2003

Geoffroy reflects on first 19 months

President Gregory Geoffroy
President Gregory Geoffroy completes his 19th month at Iowa State University this month. Photo by Bob Elbert.

by Anne Krapfl
Gregory Geoffroy today is completing his 19th month as president of Iowa State University. Inside Iowa State recently visited with him to get his perspective on his first 1 1/2 years on the job.

What about Iowa State has surprised you?
I had a very high regard for the university before I came, so I was expecting a lot. But I really didn't realize how special Iowans are. There's a special Iowa Midwest culture that I really enjoy: a warmth, friendliness, sincerity; the fact that Iowans care so much for each other and for their communities. The other aspect that I have been so pleased with is the quality of our students and how much enjoyment I get out of interacting with them. They make me enormously proud of them and what they do. Their character and work ethic are terrific.

Any big disappointments for you so far?
The budget situation has been a challenge. It really was unexpected. It's happening everywhere so we're not really unique. I do believe that our elected representatives truly value education and that's very important. The overall budget tightness limits what can be done and we feel the impact of that, but at least Iowans and their elected representatives place high value on education. That's not true everywhere, and I'm very glad I'm in Iowa because of that.

Is anything that has happened in the last few years irreversible?
In some cases, the loss of really good people. We may have lost faculty that we would not have lost had it not been for the budget situation. When you lose good people, they're hard to replace.

Your new initiatives include plans and funding to add faculty. What other plans do you have to bring faculty numbers back up?
Anytime we have any new funds to distribute -- new funding from tuition dollars, state revenue or whatever -- the highest priority has to be in replacing the faculty positions we lost in the budget reductions. So basically, everywhere we can find new resources, including reallocations, that has to be the highest priority. Based on peer group comparisons, a ratio of about 17 students per tenure/tenure-track faculty is ideal. Right now we're at about 19.5. So that means we would need to add around 200 tenure/tenure-track faculty to make up that difference. That would have to be a multi-year effort, particularly in these kinds of budget years. Much of what we're going to be able to do next year depends on what happens in the next couple of months during the legislative session.

How do we continue to strive for excellence when the money isn't there to support all our plans?
The main thing is to keep tightly focused on our priorities. These include the new interdisciplinary initiatives, but there are a lot of other terrific things we're doing that are not impacted by those initiatives. A lot of academic programs are truly world-class and we need to keep them that way.

That may mean giving less attention to the lower priority areas, but it's important to keep tightly focused on those areas we believe have the greatest chance for achieving a high level of excellence and that will help advance the university and our mission.

My assessment of Iowa State is that we are a very lean university. Any kind of "fat" that may have existed here is long gone. We'd be hard-pressed to find much in the institution that is not really essential, but we have to work to stay focused on the high-priority areas.

Were there any surprises for you in the academic initiatives that emerged last fall from the review process?
I really had no initial direction other than I wanted to see something related to food safety -- and I knew that would happen. It's an area of great strength and there's a lot of interest in it, so I'm glad that did surface as one of the initiatives. The others are ones that just naturally came through the process of faculty review and recommendations.

I think they're a great set. They're all different. But we want every one to achieve a very high level of excellence.

How will we know if they're succeeding?
We'll use the usual measures of excellence: significant increases in grant funding, better coordination of efforts, ability of the organizers of those initiatives to hire world-class junior and senior faculty. Ultimately, it's the impact we can make -- whether the faculty from those areas are having major national and international impact on those fields.

What do you consider your best day at Iowa State?
There really has not been a single best day. Commencements are always great days. It really is what we're all about, and there are so many happy people at those events. There have been a lot of other good days throughout the time I've been here.

From fall 2001 to fall 2002, most of your priorities for Iowa State remained consistent. Diversity was a new addition this fall. What was part of your first-year experience that compelled you to add this to your list of top priorities?
There were several things. First of all, I found the level of conversation about diversity issues over the course of that year to be lower than I expected and lower than the university needs. Diversity is a very, very important topic. Having lots of events and activities under the very broad umbrella of diversity has value. That, coupled with the fact that last year we lost several key faculty members who came from under-represented groups. When they left, conversations with them indicated that the environment here wasn't as supportive as they hoped it would be.

Can a place like Iowa State, in a state like Iowa, make significant progress in the area of diversity?
Yes. It's more challenging because of the demographics of Iowa, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't work at it. I think it's equally important to place high value on improving the climate for diversity, as well as trying to achieve a diverse population.

What do you hope to accomplish with the Friday diversity series?
This is one example of increasing the level of conversation on campus about diversity. It will be valuable for every person who attends and participates in the discussion, because it will cause each participant to think more deeply about important issues surrounding diversity. There's a huge amount of individual value that occurs, and ultimately, that's what I'd like to see come from this. I'm also certain there will be ideas and issues raised that come out of those conversations that need to be followed up on, so the purpose is twofold.

Will this series lead to change on campus?
Significant change won't come from a single conversation, but this is part of the educational process of students and the elevation of the general awareness of the issues and the importance of the topic around campus. If this is done on a regular basis, coupled with many other things, change can come.

Some on campus have questioned the provost search process (although not the outcome). Please explain how you arrived at your decision.
The search committee worked very hard to identify strong candidates, and we brought three finalists for the position to campus. But in the end, I found that none of the three finalists met my expectations for the position, nor did they measure up to truly great provosts that I have known at other universities. Nor did they measure up to the job that I saw Ben Allen do over the past six months. Given the importance of the position, I could not appoint someone that I didn't have a very high level of confidence in.

In the end, there were many people advising me to try to find some way to convince Ben to continue in the job, including nearly all the deans, vice presidents and some individual members of the search committee. I also know that the search committee worked very hard throughout the process to try to get Ben to be a candidate for the position, although they were unsuccessful. I am confident that had he been a candidate throughout the process, he would have been the candidate of choice. I do know that Ben will be absolutely spectacular as provost.

What's the most significant thing you've accomplished in your first 18 months as president?
There are several things that I feel good about. I believe we dealt with the budget challenges as effectively as we could have. I'm also very pleased with our identification of the new initiatives to pursue. In the long run those will prove to be very, very important for the university. And, we've worked hard to maintain as much optimism as possible in these challenging budget times.

... Becoming the Best
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.