The Dean Team: Meet Columbus State's New Cadre of Academic Leaders

     From Focus magazine, Spring 2012 >>

By John Lester
For the first time in more than two years, Columbus State academic leadership includes no one whose title begins with “interim.”

A retirement, a departure for another school, a resignation and an academic restructuring left CSU in what seemed like continuous search mode over the last few years, as committees conducted national searches to fill some of the university’s most critical roles.

This spring, the last of the searches was completed. A committed team of academic leaders is now in place, each excited about the future and poised to play a critical role as CSU begins developing a new strategic plan.

Leading the academic team is the provost, Columbus State’s chief academic officer and second-in-command. (Related story, Page 14). Reporting to him are deans who lead the university’s libraries and four colleges: Arts, Business and Computer Science, Education and Health Professions, and Letters and Sciences. Four of the five deans have been in their positions less than two years; two were hired since September. They provide the structure, resources, vision and support for all academic departments and faculty that are CSU’s true core.

“It is absolutely a delight to work with this talented group of educators,” said CSU Provost Tom Hackett. “You have only to watch this group in action to see their level of innovation, expertise and commitment to growing this university.”

In separate interviews with each dean, some commonalities emerged. All national experts in their fields, CSU’s academic deans are deeply committed to their discipline, the university and to doing whatever they can to provide a rewarding experience for every student. They seem to genuinely like each other and think their roles are critical to the university’s future. Each says raising private money is among their immediate priorities, each wants to attract more academically qualified students, and each said their area — and Columbus State as a whole — could be poised to achieve greatness.

“One thing I feel very strongly is that there’s a sense of stability now,” said David Lanoue, dean of CSU’s College of Letters and Sciences. “The team is in place and now we’re ready to step forward and really take CSU into the future. We are going to be a standout campus in the Georgia system — we’re going to be a destination campus.”

College of Letters and Sciences

Lanoue is dean of the university’s largest college, with 11 departments from English to chemistry. A veteran political science professor and former University of Alabama department chair, Lanoue assumed the reins of CSU’s College of Letters and Sciences in July 2010.

The colleges had just been reorganized when he arrived. A College of the Arts had been formed, a few departments had been reassigned to other colleges, and there was palpable uneasiness about the direction of the new college.

Lanoue, an expert on American political behavior, said he had no reservations about stepping into the job because he admired so much of what he saw at CSU, including community support, the college’s faculty and the student body.

“Students here have a level of seriousness that you don’t see in other places because they know this is their chance to achieve lifetime goals,” Lanoue said.

He hopes he can build on that by helping to provide more internships, research opportunities and scholastic assistance. He also wants to improve student retention, and hopes to provide more “space” for faculty, both in physical terms as it relates to science labs, and also in terms of professional freedom to pursue their passions.

“One of the things that gave me such confidence in being here at CSU is the dedication of our faculty. I’ve never been to a place where faculty has that kind of a devotion to their institution,” Lanoue said. “They — we — will never lose sight of our primary mission. Job No. 1 has been, and always will be, to provide a first-class education to our students.”

Lanoue said the diversity of his college has been invigorating. He purposely took an office in LeNoir Hall — home to departments such as biology and chemistry — so he could learn more about the sciences. The learning process continues, he said.

College of Education and Health Professions

Barbara Buckner is dean of CSU’s College of Education and Health Professions, which encompasses all teacher education departments, as well as health sciences and the School of Nursing. Buckner started on July 1, 2011, leaving her post as associate provost at Coastal Carolina University to return to education administration because she’s seen her profession assailed from every angle.

“My challenge as dean is to educate the public on the importance of having a highly qualified teacher in the classroom,” Buckner said. “Public education is what has made our country great."

She sees threats to that foundation that worry her greatly, and that teachers, health educators and nurses should be getting more respect, not more oversight.

“To me, we are in positions of service to society. These are noble professions,” Buckner said.

A former teacher with a passion for student reading, Buckner said the future of her new college is bright. Nursing is bursting at the seams with new online programs and possible plans for a doctoral degree, exercise science just moved into new facilities, and teacher education is looking at developing a lab school. This new school would allow the latest theories and teaching methods to be implemented and studied in a controlled environment. Although the idea is all theoretical now, faculty are writing a charter for the school, believing the idea is a definite possibility, largely because of community support for the university.

It’s fun to come to an institution and try to write another chapter.”

D. Abbott Turner College of Business and Computer Science

Whatever next chapter of CSU’s history is written, Linda Hadley will know the rest of the story. The dean of the current deans, Hadley has been at D. Abbott Turner College of Business and Computer Science since she joined the faculty as an assistant professor of finance and economics in 1992.

A Columbus native, Hadley knew she would end up in banking because of an early fascination with banks, both from a physical stand point with their marble edifices, and from an operations standpoint with the marvel of compound interest.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., she was drawn back south by family and climate. She decided to take just one class at then-Columbus College, and that led to an MBA and a professional career as a banking officer. After teaching part-time for the American Institute of Banking, Hadley decided to pursue a doctorate and taught as a graduate student at Auburn University before Columbus State hired her as a faculty member.

Now dean and the Bill Heard Chair of Finance, one of the college’s five endowed professorships, Hadley said Columbus State and her college have changed dramatically since she was a student.

“While expansion of the campus is perhaps the most visible sign of the tremendous evolution of this institution, I’m most in awe of how far the institution has come in terms of the quality of its faculty and academic programs,” she said.

CSU now aspires to be “world class,” she said. “A world-class institution requires a world-class faculty, and I feel the Turner College has certainly done its part toward meeting that objective,” she said. “The intellectual capital of our faculty is our most important asset.”

A strong faculty is also critical to keeping the school’s coveted international accreditation, which the college achieved in 2004. Recognition by AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, has placed CSU in elite company.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing stature of the institution, one of her goals for the future is more targeted recruitment. With the support of Council, a small group of prominent and committed business leaders, Hadley’s goal is to attract highly qualified students with a competitive scholarship program that also offers internship placement and leadership quidance from successful business leaders committed to advance the Turner College.

College of the Arts

Richard Baxter is dean of the College of the Arts, which encompasses the departments of theatre, art, communication and CSU’s Schwob School of Music. A former chair of the communication department, Baxter was interim dean for about six months before a national search revealed in February that the best person for the job was already in the office.

The music school is undoubtedly the college’s unit with the most distinguished history, with five endowed professorships, some of the country’s finest facilities and a tradition of having its students win music competitions around the globe.

Baxter said he’s convinced that music’s success can benefit other departments.

“In the two years that the Department of Communication was located in the College of the Arts, it became obvious to me that there was an incredible amount of potential for all the departments to distinguish themselves outside Columbus,” he said. “You have dedicated academicians totally committed to the students they teach.”

Baxter may be from a communication background, but he’s been around arts all his life and is a devoted fan. His grandfather was head of the stagehands union in Kentucky, his appreciation for art museums blossomed when he worked in New Orleans, and he has always been a music fan. As a DJ in college, working the night shift in Kentucky as The Duke of Richmond, he remembers meeting and introducing two young performers: singers Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton.

Baxter, who’s spent nearly four decades in higher education, arrived at CSU in 2005. Immediately before then, Baxter was co-owner, publisher and executive editor of two business periodicals in South Texas.

Earlier, he served as a journalism professor, department chair and in senior administrative positions with universities in Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia and West Virginia.

Libraries

Columbus State University’s dean of libraries doesn’t deal with students in one particular discipline. Mark Flynn considers all students as his students.

Asked to explain the role of libraries in CSU’s academic structure, Flynn pulled out a copy of the university’s strategic plan and went down the list of goals saying, “That’s us!”

“We provide support for the curriculum, and we provide support for students to empower them to study or do research,” said Flynn, the former director of the Florida Electronic Library and information technology programs for the Florida Division of Library and Information Services. “We teach people how to analyze and critique information, and absorb it into coursework or individual needs.”

Flynn, who became CSU’s dean of libraries in September, plans for major changes. A physical overhaul is already under way that will open up the main floor of the Schwob Memorial Library to provide more room for students to collaborate. Staff offices will move downstairs, but there will always be a reference desk nearby. Already, the library has expanded its hours until 2 a.m. on most weekdays, established a laptop computer checkout system and added an Einstein Brothers Bagels shop.

He also hopes to establish a performing arts library downtown to complement the music library in the Saunders Center for Music Studies inside the RiverCenter.

“Such upgrades will expand assets on campus and also play an important role in the community,” Flynn said, pointing out that strong college libraries attract visitors, reaping economic and cultural benefits.

“We are a cultural institution that brings value to the community, and we want to play a bigger role in that,” Flynn said, mentioning genealogy, military history and the arts. “We are all about enriching the quality of life in this community.”