A Purdue Ph.D. graduate from England who is running for CSUN’s provost has stated that increasing the graduation rate and ensuring students get a well-rounded, interdisciplinary education would be the focus of his goals.
Simon Rhodes is one of four candidates being interviewed for the provost position in a process that will fill the role being occupied by Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stella Theodoulou.
Being the dean of science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Rhodes has a background in research and medicine and has been responsible for the graduate, M.D., Ph.D. and postdoctoral programs at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
He’s also been a part of multiple committees focused on driving diversity in university environments in the U.S., including the Diversity Equity and Inclusion team that visited CSUN in 2000-2001 and established the Science Diversity Council at IUPUI.
“I believe in a comprehensive university,” Rhodes said. “I also believe that our (general education) approach should reflect that. I believe in that as an academic principle but I actually just as strongly believe in it as a practical outcome that I think we owe our students.”
Rhodes went on to say that in the future universities are preparing their students for, the best work will be done by diverse, interdisciplinary teams.
“I think we owe it to our students to give them the experiences and at least some of the knowledge that they can work and survive and thrive and flourish in those teams,” Rhodes said. “It’s not just the mechanics of it but there’s art and design and all of those other flavors that brings out the best outcome … A STEM student needs to be able to navigate different cultures, different disciplines.”
Rhodes was questioned by members of faculty about a number of issues, many of which were related to what would be his transition from being a dean of science in Indiana to a CSU provost in California.
As provost, he would be but a small piece of the massive system made up of 23 universities across the state that answers to the office of the Chancellor. In particular, Rhodes was asked how he would approach navigating that relationship and the governance balance between campus and system.
“I think that we have to walk a careful balance here,” Rhodes said of navigating the relationship between CSUN administration and the Chancellor’s Office of the CSU. “I know the devil’s in the details. Our best way to have a successful and unique campus is to work towards the big values of student success … We will have more power, more leverage, in that conversation.”
Upon questioning, Rhodes agreed that student success is not only measured by graduation rate, but also by the quality and wide breadth of the education they make that walk with.
“Do they get skills that let them adapt and thrive throughout their lives? We could push a lot of people across the stage with an education that’s absolutely useless to them,” Rhodes said, explaining the kind of education he’d rather not promote. “I think our students are going to go into a world where they’re gonna have teams that are best done by diverse groups.”
When quizzed about issues at CSUN such as Executive Orders 1100-R and 1110 and questions of proper representation raised by protest groups on campus, Rhodes was quick to say he’d want to work with student groups for their best interests.
“The university is about the students,” Rhodes responded to one question about students of color feeling under-served on campus. “I can’t claim to understand the student culture here at that level of granularity, but I think that is something that should be explored so that we work towards a better place.”
Rhodes is one of four candidates undergoing interviews for the position of provost. The provost is the university’s senior academic officer who will be “responsible for implementation of academic priorities for the university, and for the allocation of resources that will support those priorities,” according to CSUN’s Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs webpage.
The Provost Search Committee anticipates making an official selection out of those interviewed before the end of the month. With that said, their selection is a mere suggestion before President Dianne F. Harrison’s final decision to hire.
For information on the other prospective candidates for provost, check out our articles on DoVeanna Fulton, Vann Newkirk and Mary Beth Walker.