URBANA — Three things prompted Adam Gamoran's interest in the provost's job at the University of Illinois.
Personal ties to the campus and state. Experience in dealing with challenges facing major public research universities. And the opportunity to work on a new leadership team with Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
"It seemed like an exciting time to come to the University of Illinois," Gamoran said Thursday, calling Wise a "very impressive chancellor. ... She's got a great opportunity to assemble an administrative team that is forward-looking."
Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and associate dean for research in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke at the first of three public forums for finalists in the provost's search.
The other two finalists are current administrators at the Urbana campus: Ruth Watkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering. Richard Wheeler, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, did not apply for the position.
Gamoran said he wasn't deterred by the recent battle between President Michael Hogan and UI faculty over enrollment management, anonymous emails and other issues, which led to Hogan's resignation last week.
He was approached about the job in January, before Hogan's former chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned during an ethics investigation.
As events unfolded Gamoran grew more concerned, but he said the situation now appears to be resolved.
"The fact that faculty stand firmly behind the chancellor speaks well of the university," he added.
Gamoran said he has a "comfort level" with the campus. He grew up in Chicago, his wife attended the UI, and both his brother-in-law and father-in-law received their undergraduate and law degrees there.
Gamoran is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies at Wisconsin and served as interim dean of the School of Education in 2008-09. He joined the faculty in 1984.
His research focuses on stratification and inequality in school systems and on the organizational context of school reform. He is also an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty, where he has studied magnet schools and school desegregation. During 1992-93, Gamoran was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago.
Gamoran said it would be presumptuous for him to arrive with a list of what he'd do as provost, but he said he's dealt with many of the challenges confronting major universities during his 28-year career at Wisconsin.
"I would have a lot of learning to do, a lot of listening to do," he said, applauding Wise for embarking on a similar effort across campus.
His general priorities would be to update and implement a strategic plan; expand interdisciplinary programs; support innovation in teaching, research and outreach; and enhance the capacity to achieve campus goals.
Gamoran said universities operate on collegiality and collaboration, and he sensed a "hunger for collaboration, an eagerness for engagement in constructive leadership" during his visit to campus.
He said good leaders, including provosts, should be "honest, fair and transparent," perhaps not always winning agreement for their decisions but providing a sound basis and explanation for them. He also emphasized respecting employees in all job categories and diversity in the faculty and student body.
He said provosts should be effective at securing resources and helping colleges and other units do the same. They should "hire good people and let them do their work" and "create conditions where others do their best." Gamoran said the nicest professional compliment he received came when he stepped down as department chair. A colleague said, "You made me want to come to work every day."
Gamoran said the UI already has an impressive breadth of programs, strong international standing, interdisciplinary collaborations and a vibrant technology transfer environment. He would like to expand those areas, drawing on the ingenuity of faculty, students and staff.
He praised the campus for innovating teaching approaches such as "living and learning communities" and freshman Discovery courses, and said he would like to capitalize on new learning technologies, encourage more undergraduates to get involved in research and improve service learning.
At Wisconsin, he helped create an honors program and launch Discovery-type classes and supported undergraduate research. His research center helps school districts with assessment and data interpretation, and a related nonprofit brings products and services from the campus to the K-12 marketplace.
His own research involves both sociology and education, and he's involved in an interdisciplinary training program that brings students from various social sciences disciplines together to study issues in education.
He said online learning has potential to make education more accessible, but he's skeptical about exclusively online academic programs.
"Classroom-based teaching is not a dying art. Teaching and learning are as much about relationships as they are about content," he said.
About 60 people attended the forum at the Spurlock Museum. Gay Miller, professor of clinical veterinary medicine, was encouraged by what she heard.
"He's enthusiastic, he's visionary, he's positive," she said, adding the open forum was an "excellent idea."
Link to provost's search: http://oc.illinois.edu/oc/provost_search.html
Schedule for upcoming provost forums:
— Ruth Watkins, dean of UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: 1:30 p.m. April 3, Deloitte Auditorium, Business Instructional Facility, 515 E. Gregory Drive, C.
— Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the UI College of Engineering: 1:30 p.m. April 5, Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., U.