The third finalist in the search for a new chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Dr. Philip Way, told the faculty, staff, students and members of the community during a public forum Monday (April 1) that he loves the UAFS mission.
“The No. 1 reason I want to be part of this university is that I love your mission. It resonates with me,” Way said, noting that helping students rise up, for the university to gain new heights, and to enhance the region, making it a better place to live are all goals he has as well.
“I would pursue those without fail.
Way is the provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at the Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. He compared the university to UAFS, noting the similar size of the student body and that both were part of a larger university system.
“I’m very used to the notion of a multifaceted institution,” Way said, referring to programs that target high school students, two-year degrees, four-year degrees and graduate degrees.
Way served almost a year as the interim president of Slippery Rock University but under State System rules was ineligible to apply for the position. During that time and during his tenure as provost, Way has seen his institution have to work to grow enrollment and retention in order to keep funding, challenges that also face UAFS.
“If you have the programs and products people want, and you market it well, you will grow in both people coming and the funding coming,” he said.
Way also said he is a strong believer in learning by doing and the benefits of practical aspects of learning and the classroom aspect of learning.
“If you focus on these things, you are in good shape to provide a workforce companies might want and be able to sell the area to prospective companies,” he said. “I have faced the pressure you face. I’ve faced those issues before, and hopefully I can come here and face them with you.”
While fielding questions from members of the audience, Way discussed how Slippery Rock introduced success coaches to help students who might be falling through the cracks. Along with talking to students who came to them, the coaches looked for students who seemed to need help. The coaches talk to the students to determine what issues they were facing, be it health, academics, financials or other, and then point them in the direction of help.
“They also teach these students to be resilient and seek out help where they need it,” he said, noting that the coaches only work with the help of backup resources. “There has to be an infrastructure to hold it.”
He said the program is a wide help to the success of students, and is something he would suggest UAFS consider if he is chosen chancellor.
Way also discussed the need for faculty, staff and administration to be in agreement on what needs to be done at the university. He said he was a proponent of town hall meetings and community input along with meetings among those involved with the university.
“I am much in favor of everyone getting behind whatever we are doing,” he said.
One of those things everyone needs to get behind is a vision of the future of UAFS.
“Do I have it (a vision)? I might have an idea. But we need to have lots of committees, town hall meetings, discussions. And when it comes to execution, we need to have people involved in not just the planning but the execution,” Way said.
He also suggests a market input before deciding what graduate programs UAFS should add. That analysis should look at what is in demand by students and employers.
“Let’s try to grow, expand our student population, grow programs, grow revenues,” Way said. “If we do this, then we afford raises. Grow all the programs we have and build new ones to get more. We have got to keep the (university) employees happy too.”
And by growing programs, the university will be able to spur economic development in the area by providing a workforce pipeline, enhancing arts and culture, helping public health, and improving the financial health of the region.
“You are already doing a lot of it. It’s being done well here,” Way said. “We just need to market that we are.”
Way said one goal he would have would to be build a plan that looks towards 2028, the centennial anniversary of the university.
“I try to be visionary, to look at what we can do to try to move ahead. That’s the way I think,” he said.
The final finalist, Dr. Terisa Riley, senior vice president for student affairs and university administration at Texas A&M University at Kingsville, Texas, will speak at a public forum 3:45-5 p.m. Thursday (April 4). The other two candidates were Dr. Marilyn Wells provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., and Dr. Robert Marley, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo.