TNH sits down with new provost
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2013 02:10
Lisa MacFarlane sits high up in Thompson Hall. White-paneled glass doors open up into her office, the office of the provost of the University of New Hampshire, a newly-appointed position for MacFarlane. She recently took the time to sit down with The New Hampshire for an interview, discussing her goals for the university, her first experiences at UNH and occasionally filling the room with pleasant laughter, a reflection of how much she enjoys her work at the university.
Catie Hall/TNH: What is the role of the provost?
Lisa MacFarlane: Provost is the chief academic officer for the university so all the academic programs, graduate and undergraduate, the research mission and the engagement mission of the university report to the provost.
CH: What is your past experience – work and education?
LM: I came to UNH in 1987 as an assistant professor of English. I came up through the ranks in the department. I was the director of the University Honors Program for four years, and I was then senior vice provost for academic affairs, and I’ve also been the director of the UNH Cambridge program in Cambridge in the [United Kingdom].
CH: Why did you come to UNH? How and when?
LM: When I came into UNH for my job interview, it was a stunningly beautiful winter day, and I thought it was just about the most beautiful place I had seen. The faculty who interviewed me for the job was tremendously talented, wonderfully nice and really committed scholars and teachers and I wanted to be part of that community.
I fell in love with the department, and I have loved being at UNH all these years for several reasons. One because I think that this is an incredibly committed faculty, really committed to being great teachers and to doing excellent research. This is a place that’s really committed to making sure every student, whether it’s a graduate student or an undergraduate student, [is] successful. I really love that.
I love that 30 percent of our students are low income or first-generation. I believe that higher education is about social mobility and opportunity. Our retention and graduation rates are very high. The other thing that I really love about UNH is it’s a big enough, exciting enough place that you can do a lot of different things over the course of a career without having to leave your community. So it’s a place that provides a lot of opportunities.
CH: How did the opportunity to become the provost of the university arise?
LM: Well, [former] Provost [John] Aber announced that he was stepping down and the president announced that he would like to do an internal search, and I decided to apply.
CH: Did you think you were going to get the position?
LM: I knew that there were a lot of talented people who would be interested in the position, and I just felt grateful. I officially stepped in July 1.
CH: Is there anything you want to change about UNH?
LM: Well, I always wish we had more resources. I think that’s a pretty easy one to answer.
CH: What kind of resources?
LM: Financial, because ultimately that ties into everything else. We’re doing a much better helping people see the value of the university to the state as well as to individuals.
CH: If we had more resources financially, is there a certain place you would like to put the money first?
LM: While a lot of people tend to think about online courses being about homogenizing student experiences, I think the reality is that it has the potential to be just the opposite.
One of the things that I would love for us to do would be to try to have ways where we can take the best possible advantage of what it means to be a residential university. The time that we have together in classes, the time that we are face-to-face with one another, the time where students and faculty are working and are engaged together – those are so precious, and you cannot replace those with technology.
To my mind, I would like for us to think about and over the next five to 10 years work on are ways to ensure that every time we are fortunate enough to be together in community, we’re doing something that cannot be done in any other medium. So that means more research with students, more field work, more internship types of opportunities, opportunities for students to study abroad, more ways for students to work together on projects that have a real impact on their own development or on the world around them.
When you think about the Social Business Innovation Contest that happened last Monday, with Muhammad Yunus as the speaker, and you think about the number of student teams who participated in that on three weeks notice, it’s astonishing, and to me it is an incredibly positive and optimistic sign of the energy and idealism and creativity of the next generation.
CH: Who/what departments do you work with on a day-to-day basis?
LM: The provost works with all deans of all colleges, with all of the research units, with the library, of course, and cooperative extension. In the course of [a] day, I might work with facilities people about creating new classrooms or renovating laboratory spaces. I might work with people in [the] office of international students and scholars about making sure that our international visitors are comfortable and welcomed on campus and that their needs are being met. I might get a phone call from a parent concerned about his or her child. I work with the other members of the provost’s staff and with members of the president’s cabinet on a daily basis.