Charles Taber, the new university provost and senior vice president, came to Kansas State from Stony Brook University in New York. Taber spent 30 years at Stony Brook in various roles ranging from instructor to vice provost.
Kaylie McLaughlin, news editor: “What have been some of your first impressions of K-State so far?”
Taber: “The first impressions were actually when I was interviewing. … I came in a little early and walked around town to get a sense of what the place was like, and the people really do mean ‘K-State family.’ It really is an incredible community-oriented university, and it’s one of the reasons I came — because I was looking for that kind of a place. … The second impression is that the quality of leadership is really strong. I mean, I’ve been impressed at all levels: the high, obviously the general, the level of leadership among the deans. I’ve been impressed with heads, and student leadership here is really impressive, so it’s been great.”
McLaughlin: “How do you think your professional experience with research and academia prepared you to facilitate the university’s goal to be a top research university by 2025?”
Taber: “K-State is a research one university; I came from a research one university. … That’s really what I’m all about is research — public research universities. In terms of my own research, I think it does connect also. I do research in the way that people have difficulty believing evidence, people have difficulty talking to each other, getting past their prior beliefs. I’m a political psychologist, so I think that’s really relevant also to a university campus as we think about intercultural communication. A lot of that is just putting yourself in the shoes of another person and starting to understand that they’re coming from a different direction. That’s another way in which my own research experience can help us. I think just driving up the university in terms of our research volume, in terms of our enrollments, that’s going to take us to the 2025 goals.”
McLaughlin: “As the chief academic officer of the university, what role do you play in the facilitation of the 2025 initiative?”
Taber: “That’s one of my central focuses, and it’s a responsibility of mine to make sure that … we continue to make progress. I can’t take credit for the progress, but the numbers for this year are doing great. I just came here, so it’s not my accomplishment, but in almost every indicator, we’re up this year on 2025, and that’s great. I have the responsibility to keep that going, to make sure that we are making the decisions in administration that support the mission of the university.”
McLaughlin: “What role does intercultural learning play in the curriculum at K-State?”
Taber: “Well, it should play a really important role. We’re preparing people for careers and citizenship in a global society, so we need to make sure that people are comfortable, and you know that they are dealing with people from many different cultures and that they appreciate the fact that we all come from different backgrounds. We have to be able to work together as a community, and that’s going to be important for the future success of our students after they leave.”
McLaughlin: “As provost, the libraries report to you. What can you tell me about the progress of the rebuilding of Hale?”
Taber: “As a little background, I was actually interviewing here when the Hale fire happened. I didn’t know it had happened, but I was in interview meetings with people all day long and people kept scurrying out of the room, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, this isn’t going very well,’ but it was actually the fire. I actually have this weird sort of intimate connection with the fire with having gone through that.
“[For] the progress, they’re pretty much finished with cleaning out the shell of the building. They’re still doing some of the more specialty things, like the special old plaster where the murals are in the Great Room. They have to have specialists coming in to figure it out and they’re already drying that out completely. The problem was actually water, not fire. All of the collection has been removed and it’s all over the place in the Midwest being de-molded or de-smoke damaged. They really lost remarkably few books out of the whole collection.”
McLaughlin: “What role are you going to continue to play in the transition to the modernized budget plan?”
Taber: “Well, I’ve been involved in that even before I came. I came in officially on Aug. 15, but I worked over the whole summer on the budget modernization and also the strategic enrollment management plans remotely. I did come in for a couple of several-day visits, but most of the time I worked remotely. I’ve been very involved in the budget plan from the beginning, and right now we are in that implementation phase. We’ve rolled it out to all the units and we’re going through what’s called the ‘shadow year’ now, which means that we will make changes to the model this year without the model actually affecting anybody yet. … It’s like a simulation model right now. We are observing how the model would affect people this year and that allows us to make any changes that we need to make.”
McLaughlin: “How would you describe the budget modernization plan to someone who is unfamiliar with it?”
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Taber: “It’s not a simple thing. First, we need to understand what the budget model was in the past, and that was simple: it’s what’s called an incremental model, meaning everybody gets what they got last year, plus or minus a little bit based on up or down turns in enrollments or in terms of state support. That’s not a very strategic approach.
“The new approach is a very strategic approach. It’s very intentional and it’s very transparent so we know exactly what it costs to do certain things and what the revenue that comes from those things are. We can very carefully balance cost and revenue. Sometimes we choose to continue to do something that’s costly and doesn’t bring in a lot of revenue because it’s really important to us to do it, but at other times, we might really think carefully about whether we should continue to do that particular thing.”
McLaughlin: “How does this budget plan benefit the students?”
Taber: “Well, I think it’s going to be an explosion of benefit for students over time, and probably the most direct benefit is [that] there is going to be a lot of new and innovative programs. We haven’t had a real incentive for faculty to develop new programs — say, interdisciplinary programs. Maybe they haven’t thought about that before; now they have this really strong incentive, because if they can attract students and get them enthusiastic to get them to come into their program, it’s not actually just great, but it brings money. … The other thing, over time, I think the new budget model is really going to stabilize the finances of the university and will allow us to deal with some of the real problems we have financially.”
McLaughlin: “What does the K-State family mean to you?”
Taber: “The K-State family means that we are all a part of this thing that’s bigger than us and we’re all engaged in serving the state and the community together. In the large picture, that’s what it means. In interpersonal relations, I think it also believes that we behave with respect toward others. … We might not always understand others, but we always give them the benefit of the doubt and we treat them the way we treat family. In any family, there’s that uncle that you maybe see at Thanksgiving and they’re kind of weird, they say crazy things, but they’re still family and you love them, even if you don’t always understand or get along with them.”