January 31, 2003
Geoffroy reflects on first 19 months
by Anne Krapfl
|President Gregory Geoffroy completes his 19th month at
Iowa State University this month. Photo by Bob
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
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
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
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
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
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
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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