Columns: What attracted you to UGA?
Whitten: UGA enjoys a reputation of having a meteoric rise over the last couple of decades, so it’s been exciting to watch the tremendous growth of the university in terms of the quality of education that it offers and the reputation that it enjoys, both nationally and internationally. The other piece that was attractive is that once you have had the chance to visit the university, you appreciate that it is far from done-that UGA is very ambitious in propelling itself to new heights.
Columns: What are some of the things you noticed about the university in your first few weeks and months here?
Whitten: Though the university has been through tremendous challenges, as have most public institutions in higher education, in general there’s a real spirit of optimism here. The faculty, staff and students are justifiably very proud of the work that they do and of their contributions to the state and nation, and they’re very enthusiastic about moving ahead and doing even more exciting things.
Columns: Tell me about your vision for UGA.
Whitten: I think President Morehead and I are kindred spirits in our ambition to take some giant steps to move UGA from its current status as an excellent university into the ranks of the elite universities of the United States. To do that, we need to build upon the outstanding undergraduate education we provide, but we also need to really step up our funded research and graduate education.
Columns: Why is it important for UGA to reach that next level?
Whitten: Universities change lives. Taking the university to the next level means that we can be more effective in offering education to both undergraduates and graduates that prepares them to go out and be leaders around the state and the nation and to come up with solutions that impact the way people around the globe live.
Taking the university to the next level means our faculty will play an even greater role in conducting research that addresses and answers those sticky problems that impact people’s health and quality of life.
We want to have an even more significant role in moving Georgia-as well as the nation and the world-forward economically, culturally and socially.
Columns: Tell me about some of the things that you have put in place toward your vision for UGA.
Whitten: The president and I launched a series of educational enhancements that are about not only ensuring a very high quality of education for students, but also facilitating their ability to get the education they need in a timely way. We have increased the total number of advisers, for example, and are preparing to launch new advising programs for transfer students and are integrating career planning into the advising process earlier. We’re also expanding opportunities for students to have internships and participate in research with faculty through the new CURO Research Assistantship Program so that students will be fully prepared for careers or graduate school.
We’re also asking leaders from across campus to step up and help strengthen our research culture and increase our research funding. Deans are playing a bigger role and department heads will be playing a bigger role to enhance research productivity so that we increase the impact of the research that we conduct.
Columns: What do you want our faculty to know about you in your role as provost?
Whitten: I came to this job through the route of being a faculty member, and I think being a faculty member is one of the best and most important jobs there is. I think it’s important that faculty participate and have a voice in all that we do at the university while also recognizing that we are operating in a time of unique resource constraints and that we have to be pragmatic. I also understand the challenge of balancing the great teaching and scholarship that faculty do with the need that we have for them to play leadership roles around campus.
Columns: Is there anything else you’d like to add or say in summary?
Whitten: We’ve got some heavy lifting to do to get ourselves to the next level, and all of us have to be patient and helpful and trust each other and know that we’re motivated by doing the very best for the university. We have constraints that drive some of the decisions we make, but foremost in our mind is always the student-always, always the student-and an understanding that world-class faculty are what make a world-class university.