By Kim Morter
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Paul Sypherd, UA provost for the past 18 months, has been under fire recently for many issues, most notably the recent recommendations by a university-wide committee to cut various academic programs and the ongoing discussion about the UA's mission and role in the state's economy. He came to the UA in January 1993 from the University of California at Irvine.
Wildcat: You're known as a "hatchet man" of sorts because you speak your mind. How has this contributed to your image on campus?
Sypherd: I come to this position with a faculty mentality. It is my job to lead, convince, jawbone, and cajole with faculty, administrators and students to help them understand these changes. Many don't want to believe that changes are occurring. They think the good times will return.
Wildcat: How are students' expectations different now from when you were a professor?
Sypherd: Now, students expect a more student-centered environment with their education, and I truly believe we're moving that direction. When I was in school, research was the driving force. Universities depended on federal research money for every development. At that time, faculty had more loyalty to their fields globally. Now, faculty loyalty lies within each respective department.
Wildcat: How do you perform the demands of being provost, knowing that every day someone will be angry with you?
Sypherd: Sometimes, I come in here defeated. It's like preparing a meal in the kitchen for dozens of people dining in your home. Instead of having four burners, you're faced with 20. Some are bound to boil over.
Wildcat: What were your expectations when you arrived in January 1993, and how have they changed?
Sypherd: When I came to this job, I didn't realize the span of issues I'd be responsible for. I deal with everything from having esoteric discussions with administrators from other universities about education in the 20th century to someone's missing paycheck from payroll. But I've always liked being involved with many things, and I hit the ground running last January. I'm a "fix-it" man Ä I like to fix things. My car, my irrigation system, the people I represent.
Wildcat: How do you manage your time with so many responsibilities day after day?
Sypherd: My life is on index cards that I keep in my pocket. I have dozens of stacks of papers on my desk, and I know I won't get to them every day. It's tough.
Wildcat: There has been tremendous press of late on the issue of the university's mission. How was that mission derived, and what does it mean for the UA?
Sypherd: With the recent (1990) update of the mission and the initiation of PAIP (Program for Assessment of Institutional Priorities, 1992-93), we needed to more closely define the mission. The way it stood, it could apply to any public university. We needed UA specificity. A PAIP-derived group known as the "Gang of 60" revamped the mission by bringing that specificity. I'm not a great planner, but I need to know where we're going. There was clearly a need for a strategy. There's the old saying, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you." The UA needs that destination.
Wildcat: What are the dilemmas facing the UA in the coming years and the coming century?
Sypherd: The main question is the context of the future Ä what will it look like? Will more or fewer students be attending college? Will more or fewer leave college in poverty? My goal is to estimate the future with some certainty by following existing trends. It is appropriate for this administration to be thinking in these terms. It is then my job to convince faculty and students that my vision is accurate. That's the most compelling feature of my job. We are undoubtedly moving toward a technologically-based way of life, and this university needs to continue to provide its students with the necessary skills and training to compete. At the same time, we need to move toward that student-centered university that its members expect.
Wildcat: What are your goals for the rest of your tenure here?
Sypherd: We as a university need to supply our students with a superior education, including not only technological preparation, but the ability to think critically and communicate, the moral principles necessary to a balanced life and the ability to transfer that knowledge to the public sector. I frankly don't know that we've been diligent in providing that superior education. I would like admissions standards at UA to increase. I would like to see every faculty member be an adviser or mentor, kind of the old-fashioned way of coaching a student through college. Societal elements place a tremendous burden on public education in this country, and our job is to help. Read Next Article