Provost Callahan: "Education transforms" lives

Phyllis Callahan

Phyllis Callahan

interview by Carole Johnson, university news and communications

Finding ways to communicate openly is one priority Provost Phyllis Callahan is committed to this academic year, and in fact, it permeates each of her priorities.

Callahan, along with the university deans, established three main priorities for this academic year:

• Invest in academic programs.

• Improve communication.

• Implement resolutions approved by the board of trustees for the regional campuses.

In this question-and-answer article, Callahan speaks about today’s challenging environment in higher education. She can’t help her over-the-top enthusiasm about the possibilities, and she is open to constructive dialogue knowing that good communication can lead to innovation.

Q: What is the motivation that energizes you in your role as provost?
A: I really believe that education transforms someone’s life. That is something that always stays with me. It is our job as educators to convey the value of maintaining a curiosity that persists through each student’s life. We can’t teach everything they will need to know in life, but we can foster that yearning for learning.

Q: Your roots are in teaching biology. Do you have a favorite teaching method?
A: I think about learning in different ways, using multiple approaches, formats and designs. I am not married to one design. It depends on the discipline, the outcomes, the student body, the faculty member. To be effective, educators must familiarize themselves with different methods and approaches and ask, “How do we create an educated, knowledgeable population?”

Q: Can you be creative in teaching and stay within a budget?
A: I want faculty to be creative, to not think about the money first. Start with a great idea: Faculty will want to teach in those areas; students will enroll; more faculty will want to work in that program; the revenue will come from that. Start with a great idea and develop a quality program that is interesting, exciting and relevant. We are discoverers and disseminators of knowledge. Our curriculum development, research and scholarship is what we contribute to knowledge.

Q: What is MU doing to maintain our current faculty and attract new faculty?
A: Miami has so many gifted faculty members who are extremely dedicated. To maintain our current employees and attract new ones, we must provide a supportive environment, and we must offer competitive salaries and reward people for their contributions. The deans, department chairs and program directors provide funds to faculty for travel, professional development and startup to support and promote scholarly efforts. Internal grants are available to support research and new initiatives. With respect to salaries, here are some of our efforts:

For the Oxford campus:
  1. Miami University has committed nearly $1.5 million over the past two years to make market adjustments to faculty salary. Because the average salary for assistant professors at Miami is above the average for Ohio public institutions, the focus has been on making adjustments to salaries of the associate professors and full professors to achieve or exceed the average when compared to other Ohio public universities. The impact of only one year of applying that market adjustment is that the Oxford average associate professor pay level for 2014 is above the average for associate professors at Ohio publics: $85,643 vs. $84,673 in 2014, the most current data available.
  2. We have also increased the Oxford average full professor salary level by $4,701, from $106,724 in 2013 to $111,425 in 2014, the year the most current data are available. Although still below the average for full professors at Ohio public institutions, we look forward to learning the impact of the second year of market adjustments (we will have that data in the fall of 2015) and are committed to improving further faculty salaries with a third round of market adjustment this year.
  3. The number of full-time permanent faculty in Oxford increased from 675 in 2004 to 694 in 2014 and to 712 in 2015 as of Oct. 21, 2015. This includes lecturers and clinical faculty, who are currently 16.7 percent of our tenured/tenure-line faculty, and less than the 20 percent permitted by University Senate resolution.
For the regional campuses:
  1. Regional campus full-time tenure and tenure track and lecturers/clinical faculty positions have increased by almost 12 percent from 2004 to 2015 (101 in 2004; 120 in 2014; 113 in 2015).  Lecturers and clinical faculty are 17.7 percent of the total number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty.
  2. Based on 2014 data, the average salary for full professors on the regional campuses is higher than the average salary at other Ohio public regional campuses.  The associate professor average salaries are lower than the average salaries at Ohio public regional campuses (MU associate professor average = $71,044 compared to $72,736 for Ohio public regionals) and are slightly lower for assistant professors (the difference is $11, i.e. $58,051 for assistant professors at MU – regionals compared to $58,062 for Ohio public regionals). For the past two years, part of the regional campus increment pool has been directed toward market adjustments to increase associate professor salaries.  The dean plans to follow this process again this year.

Q: Miami’s regional campuses are undergoing major restructuring to meet the demands of providing accessible education for residents in southwest Ohio. What are the next steps for them?
A: I am extremely encouraged by the faculty engagement from the regional campuses. They worked tirelessly during the summer on departmental structure and invested an amazing amount of work developing new degrees. I see tremendous potential in that our regional campuses serve highly motivated and talented students who are geographically bound but want and need to acquire education and skills to be successful in their professional lives.

Q: Among your priorities, why is communication so important to you?
A: We want to be sure we have effective and accurate information flowing both ways. I value honest discussion and constructive dialogue.  We look forward to sharing information and answering questions and want to have the communication pathways that encourage that.  I think Senate is one very good way to do that, and I hope members of the community communicate with their senators. Newsletters and other types of communication are also available.  I am meeting with chairs and program directors in small groups this semester and plan, this year, to visit departments and programs across the campuses to interact more directly and in smaller groups.

Q:  What does higher education look like to you today and in the future?
A: There are many questions that we need to be thinking about and preparing answers for: How do we prepare our students for the world? What are our students going to confront? Every generation faces challenges, but we need to understand what those could be for our students. Areas such as social justice,  distribution of resources, sustainability, health care, mental health — these challenges and more and their consequences on society. Universities play a critical role in helping to provide solutions. I really believe it is our job, our calling. We have the responsibility to meet those challenges and provide solutions.