Ohio State Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz isn’t one to slow down.
“It’s very easy to say, ‘Let’s stop. Let’s not do anything for a year.’ But that’s not what we’re all about,” he said in an interview with The Lantern Tuesday.
In a time of transition into newly appointed OSU President Michael Drake’s term, Steinmetz, who began his OSU tenure in 2009 as a vice provost and executive dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he is “fairly used to transition,” having previously worked at the University of Kansas and Indiana University.
Steinmetz talked about topics including his thoughts on the current transition phase, Maymester and class cancellations in the hour-long interview.
Preparing for Michael Drake’s arrival
Steinmetz said perhaps his biggest impact as provost so far has been to be an anchor of stability during the transition to Drake’s administration.
“Up to this point, I’ve had three substantial conversations … with Dr. Drake to give him a snapshot of where we are on the academic side,” Steinmetz said. “He’s interested, so example, in the summary of where we are in the development of the Discovery Theme development, where we are with the initiatives we launched in (the Office of Academic Affairs).”
The Discovery Themes initiative, which was launched in October 2012, targets health and wellness, energy and environment, food production and food security, which are areas identified by some OSU officials as university priority areas. The $400 million plan includes expanding research and hiring new faculty.
Steinmetz said he and Drake have developed a good relationship, and he expects a smooth transition.
“The style of people change. Different leaders have different styles and I’ll adapt to that style and what he’s looking for,” he said. “I know the difficulty there is when you’re somewhere else, and you’re trying to make that transition as smoothly as possible, but he asks the right questions, I think, and is probing to the depth that I think is healthy.”
He added that Drake’s medical experience as an ophthalmologist provides him with experience that should reduce the time it will take for Drake to adapt to administrating OSU and its Wexner Medical Center.
“It’s a part of the learning curve that is often difficult that he doesn’t have to worry about,” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz said he hasn’t talked to Drake about what changes could be made academically.
“Before we can have that kind of a discussion, you have to have full understanding of what’s going on here,” he said.
Steinmetz said he expects any new directions would emerge in “the first six months or so.”
He also said Drake has a particular interest in the global perspective a university can take and said a new focus in that area is possible.
May Session’s present and future
Steinmetz said there are no significant changes set to be made to May Session this year.
“What we’re trying to actually do is run it as close as we could to the last time to get an idea of its use, what classes are actually being offered, how they’re being staffed, that sort of thing,” Steinmetz said.
May Session is one of two parts of OSU’s summer term. Under the term’s existing structure, students enrolled in classes during Spring Semester 2014 who do not graduate at the end of the semester are eligible to take a three-credit class with no additional tuition payment. It was developed as part of the university’s transition from quarters to semesters in 2012.
Steinmetz said the program, though, is being studied to make it better in the future.
“I asked the Senate Fiscal Committee to look at (Maymester) and study the recommendation from a fiscal sense of where we should go, and then to also study the data of who took advantage of it, how did students take advantage, what was offered, that sort of thing,” Steinmetz said. “That’s one of those examples where I wish that we were quicker at times, but they’re thorough and I appreciate that.”
Consistency is necessary in a program like this, Steinmetz said.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like the second year of the experiment. I’m a neuroscientist, so I’ve done a lot of experiments in my day, and the last thing we want to do is to change the parameters,” Steinmetz said.
Class cancellations in Spring Semester
Steinmetz said he received mixed reactions, including “colorful emails,” about class cancellations and subsequent plans to allow for class makeup days over the course of the semester.
OSU called off classes Jan. 6, Jan. 7 and Jan. 28 because of extreme weather conditions. Temperatures fell to roughly minus 7 degrees Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 and to about minus 11 degrees Jan. 28, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration archives.
“Safety is the issue for us … the estimates of the wind chill and the size of our campus made it unbelievably risky,” Steinmetz said.
Despite poor access on his birthday, Jan. 6, though, Steinmetz said he still came to work.
In an email Jan. 29, Steinmetz alerted faculty, staff and students of the possibility to make up classes on April 22, the reading day before finals.
Faculty members who administer seven-week courses had the option of making up missed sessions Feb. 8 and Feb. 15, both Saturdays.
Steinmetz said Tuesday his biggest concern, and part of the reason for sending the email, had to do with classes that don’t meet often.
“We were very concerned about classes that only met once a week. Those in particular were problematic, and then more problematic is we now have seven week courses in addition to the 14-week (classes),” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz said it was providing the opportunity that was key.
“It’s important at some point to provide that opportunity for those faculty that choose to use it,” Steinmetz said. “I don’t know how many have chosen to use the time. We’ll check after the semester.”