Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: “Have you noticed this academic year to be different from others in the time that you’ve worked here, and if yes, how so?”
April Mason, university provost and senior vice president: “A little bit, but it’s because it’s my last academic year here. At the new student convocation I got all … choked up, and then again at commencement, I got a little choked up in December. I think it was because I was thinking, ‘Well, this is the last new student convocation I’ll do, this is the last December commencement I’ll do.’ So, that’s a little different.
“The pace has not slowed a bit. We’ve got the strategic enrollment management effort going on. We’ve done a lot with diversity and inclusion … and we are doing a budget modernization process, looking at the way Kansas State University traditionally has budgeted and seeing what we might do to change that. Those are three huge efforts.”
McLaughlin: “What actions has the university taken to counteract the drop in enrollment aside from hiring the consultant?”
Mason: “We’ve committed some additional resources to scholarships, both need-based and merit-based. We have committed some new positions to out-of-state recruitment efforts. We’ve also committed some additional funds, and this was a few years ago, to international student recruitment. We are having to look at that pretty carefully because it may not be our recruitment efforts; it may be the inability of many international students to get visas, and things like that we can’t effect a change in.”
McLaughlin: “How do you think the racially charged events from last semester have affected the overall feeling of community on campus?”
Mason: “I’ve been so close to the search for our associate vice president of student life for multicultural student affairs, Adrian Rodriguez. I co-chaired the search for our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. I worked with a group of many, many people, including student government, to put on the KSUnite event. I hope we are in a better position.
“I know it’s a tenuous situation, and the fact that any student may not feel safe and welcomed on this campus is a problem for me. I feel very badly about that and want to address that. And that’s any student: international student, different race or ethnicity students, someone with a different sexual orientation or religion.
“I think we have to be, as a university, very open, accepting and respectful of differences, whatever those differences might be. We’ve done quite a bit at the central administrative level related to intercultural learning … whether that be language or many other things, so that people can meet others and be careful of the language that they use to not do anything that might be offensive.
“I hope we are in a better place, but I almost turn that around and ask you: Help me, are we in a better place? What do you think we need yet to do?”
McLaughlin: “I don’t know. It feels like right now we are in a better place, but it almost feels like we are just waiting for something else to happen. Personally for me, I can’t speak to racial tension on campus because all I do is cover it — I don’t experience it, and I don’t live it myself. Right now, we seem like we are in a better place, so I guess that’s really all you can ask for.”
Rafael Garcia, editor-in-chief: “I think I kind of wonder, in terms of the K-State community … what role should the student body, faculty, university and administration take in promoting the community? How do you think that responsibility should be divided up to build the K-State family or community?”
Mason: “Well, I start by saying I was very involved in the hiring of the two positions, but boy, it is not the responsibility of two individuals to make this happen. It is everybody. It is the individual that’s working in food service, it’s the faculty member, it’s the staff member that may greet a student coming into a departmental office, it’s you, it’s me and it needs to be that way.
“Some of us may have a lot of tools to utilize because we’ve gone through some sensitization. We’ve done some training, but we need to make that more globally available to people so that there is an expectation. I mean, we talk about the Principles of Community, but a recent faculty member contacted me and said she actually tried to use the Principles of Community in her class and people had no idea what she was talking about. … What can we do to just raise the awareness of being respectful to people, to valuing difference and seeing how we can learn from people and their differences?”
McLaughlin: “What do you think is the biggest problem facing students in 2018?”
Mason: “I’m very keenly aware that finances are issues for our student population, undergraduate or graduate. I think [the problem is] finding that balance of being able to attend school, not racking up a huge amount of debt that you are then going to have to pay off later and thinking very seriously about the education you are getting.”
McLaughlin: “I have a little bit of a follow-up question, but when you were in college, did you ever imagine that you’d be where you are today?”
Mason: “I imagined that I’d be on a university campus because I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a university professor. Did I imagine that I’d be a provost? No, because I had no idea what a provost was, and a lot of people don’t know what a provost is: the chief academic officer of the university, the number two position under the president.
“I coordinate everything from budget prep to the libraries to presentations at the Board of Regents. It’s a very, very diverse position, and because it’s such a diverse position, it’s a little hard to categorize what it is.”
McLaughlin: “You’ve been a big driver of the K-State 2025 initiative, so can you explain a little bit of the progress and the end goal of where you want that to go?”
Mason: “Our former president and I were really two of the many people that pushed hard on K-State 2025, and the overall goal was to be a top 50 public research university by 2025. We started this effort in 2010, and here it is, 2018. … We knew it was a big goal, a stretch goal, and if in 2025, when I am long retired, we look back and say, ‘Hey, are we a top 50 public research university now?’ we will be darn close, or certainly closer than we were in 2011, and I think that’s the whole thing of what K-State 2025 was about.”
McLaughlin: “If you could have done anything differently in this academic year, what would it have been?”
Mason: “Well, it’s not over, so I still have a chance. [I’d have] communicated more to campus. It’s hard for me to sit down and … get myself in the mode to communicate with campus. I did that with my letter in August, and I was committed to doing that this semester. I better get going.”
McLaughlin: “What has been your favorite part about working at K-State?”
Mason: “Commencement is one of my faves, ironically so. You would not know, but my very first semester here, I came in January, so the May semester, I had never been to a K-State commencement. There’s a script on the podium in Bramlage, and someone had flipped the page. So when I got up there it said, ‘Provost says,’ and I’d read through the commencement script.
“What was on the previous page that had gotten flipped was, ‘Please stand and our soloist will sing the national anthem.’ So, I didn’t say it. I didn’t introduce the person because it was flipped over, and because this was my first one, I didn’t flip back. Evidently, everybody else knew, and in fact, I sat down after my part and thought, ‘That’s funny, we didn’t sing the national anthem.’
“What happened was somebody came to the side of the stage and whispered to one dean who whispered to another dean, and it just whispered along the track until it got to me. I got poked, and they said, ‘You didn’t introduce the soloist.’ I was the commencement speaker, so I got up and gave my commencement speech, and it was all about growing and understanding what you are doing and knowing yourself. My last comment was, ‘Always be ready to admit you’ve made a mistake. I have made a huge mistake. Would you please stand as our soloist sings the national anthem.’ That’s when we did it.
“And you may know that last May, I fell off the stage. I was helping a student who was on crutches, and I took one little baby step back. That was just enough, and I went off the stage. I cracked my head really badly, hurt my ankle, and they toted me away in an ambulance. … I fell off the stage at the Arts and Sciences commencement, so this semester I went to the Arts and Sciences commencement with my bicycle helmet on my head and my mortar board on top of it, and the dean thought that was pretty funny. But I stayed on the stage the whole darn time. Commencement is my favorite thing, even though I’ve had some less than pleasurable experiences at it.”
Garcia: “What impression do you think K-State has left on you, aside from a bump on your head?”
“I think why I teared up at the convocation and why I teared up a little at commencement is that it has left a very deep impression on me, and that’s from people. That’s from support of wonderful individuals that may have graduated from here or may not have graduated from here and are incredibly supportive of the university and how giving they are, not just of their resources, but of their time and their knowledge.”