New provost knows what returning to U will take

Karen Hanson will take over for Tom Sullivan as provost Feb. 1.

Greta Kaul

The University of Minnesota has changed drastically since Karen Hanson graduated in 1970.

On recent trips to campus, she felt lost in a sea of new buildings.

âÄúEvery now and again I saw a building I knew and thought âÄòOh, now I know where I am!âÄô âÄù

She was on campus briefly in September for a public forum. Come February, sheâÄôll be back full-time as the UniversityâÄôs second-in-command.

President Eric Kaler selected Hanson on Oct. 10 from a field of four finalists to take over for Tom Sullivan as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost last Monday. Sullivan has held the position since 2004.

Hanson will leave her position as executive vice president of Indiana University and provost of its Bloomington campus to begin at the University.

 âÄúWith Karen as provost, we get the spectacular combination of a leader with a strong academic record and someone who has honed her skills as a seasoned administrator,âÄù Kaler said in a press release last week.

The University was a big part of HansonâÄôs early life âÄî from childhood on the St. Paul campus to her undergraduate career in Minneapolis. HansonâÄôs father was a faculty member in the UniversityâÄôs animal sciences department. Both of HansonâÄôs older brothers also graduated from the University.

While in high school, Hanson worked at the Campus Club âÄî a mostly-faculty membership club on the fourth floor of Coffman Union.

Having spent so much time on campus, sheâÄôs excited about her new job at the University, but sorry her father couldnâÄôt see her âÄúhomecoming.âÄù

University days

Hanson fondly remembers her undergraduate education at the University in the âÄô70s.

âÄúI was really happy in college,âÄù she said. âÄúI lived at home âÄî that meant I would go off to campus early in the morning when my dad would go to work âĦ I didnâÄôt go home until 6 p.m., usually.âÄù

Between classes, Hanson was a daytime fixture on the Minneapolis campus. She took advantage of the UniversityâÄôs cultural and academic opportunities âÄî plays, concerts, honors program, seminars and lectures. Looking back, she said those diverse advantages of a big research institution made an impression on her.

âÄúI took a lot of [courses] in a lot of areas because I wasnâÄôt exactly certain what I was going to specialize in,âÄù Hanson said. âÄúI donâÄôt remember not liking a course.âÄù

Ultimately, she settled on philosophy and math. Before she finished, she dabbled in anthropology, sociology and even took a course in mythology.

She went on to receive a Master of Arts and a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard University in 1980.

âÄòThe alma mater pullâÄô

Although Hanson has been approached by many higher education search committees recruiting administrators, she said she turned them all down âÄîuntil now.

The âÄúalma mater pullâÄù and MinnesotaâÄôs commitment to higher education were factors in her decision.

But state cuts have called that commitment into question.

Hanson will arrive at the University already familiar with state cuts to higher education. This biennium, Indiana UniversityâÄôs budget was cut 5.4 percent âÄî the UniversityâÄôs was cut 7.8 percent.

Echoing statements Kaler has made, Hanson said universities need to plan ahead and make efficiency decisions in order to survive with less funding from the government.

âÄúWe havenâÄôt had terrible disruptions [in Indiana] because the writing was on the wall about state revenues âÄî we began to plan for the likelihood of cuts and decisions,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs also made us look closely at our own priorities and be very self-conscious about what must be preserved and enhanced.âÄù

But Hanson sees differences in the higher education climate in the two states.

âÄúIndiana has a slightly different approach to taxation and to funding to education and always has,âÄù she said. Despite cuts from the state, Minnesotans are proud of their university, Hanson insisted.

âÄúThereâÄôs a kind of conviction there âÄî itâÄôs not always articulated, [but] itâÄôs felt in the bones,âÄù she said.

Hanson lamented the rise in tuition, course material and textbook costs for students.

âÄúIt used to be possible for people who were going to school to work enough to be able to cover a lot of their costs, but thatâÄôs increasingly different.âÄù

In recent years, Indiana University worked with publishers to provide electronic textbooks to students that work with Kindles, iPads and other mobile devices to deliver classroom content to students at 35 percent of a textbookâÄôs price, she said.

Her pay will increase from $302,000 to $390,000 when she makes the move to Minnesota âÄîa 14 percent raise over SullivanâÄôs salary âÄî but she didnâÄôt know that when she began the process, she said.

âÄúYou donâÄôt embark on this with any sort of sense of what your salary will be,âÄù she said.

Protecting humanities

Hanson made the importance of a well-rounded education a major point of her provost candidate forum in September. She stressed it again in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.

âÄú[Science, technology, engineering and math] fields are important for national advancement, but itâÄôs also important that we remember the value of lives well lived and of understanding the human condition,âÄù she said.

Kaler has said HansonâÄôs background in the humanities complements his own science-based education.

The Board of Regents reviewed a plan Friday to increase student enrollment by 1,000 in the STEM fields starting in 2012. No enrollment increases are planned in the College of Liberal Arts.

âÄú[The argument] neednâÄôt always be cast as science against the humanities,âÄù Hanson said, arguing that humanities are relatively inexpensive to fund.

A good track record

Anything that has to do with academics âÄî from curriculum changes to hiring deans âÄî falls under the provostâÄôs jurisdiction, Sullivan said.

Hanson is well-prepared for the position, with a strong command of both student and faculty issues, said Pete Goldsmith, Indiana UniversityâÄôs dean of students. She began as provost at Indiana University in 2007.

âÄúSheâÄôs been incredibly supportive of students and student affairs,âÄù Goldsmith said. He and Hanson frequently met with the heads of student committees at monthly advisory meetings to discuss University policy issues.

 âÄúSheâÄôs a very good listener,âÄù said Randy Arnold, a member of the Bloomington Faculty Council.

Hanson joined Indiana UniversityâÄôs philosophy department as a lecturer in 1976 and became its chairwoman about 20 years later. She also worked as an adjunct instructor in comparative literature, American studies and gender studies departments.

As provost, Hanson remained highly attuned to Indiana faculty issues, serving as co-chairwoman on the faculty committee of the Bloomington campus, Goldsmith said.

 âÄúIâÄôm very sorry to lose her here,âÄù Goldsmith said. âÄúSheâÄôs a remarkable administrator.âÄù

Hanson and her husband Dennis Senchuk, a philosophy professor, have two 21-year-old children enrolled at Indiana University. They also have a Cairn terrier named Roxy, which âÄúkind of looks like the dog in âÄòThe Wizard of Oz,âÄô âÄù Hanson said.

She visited Minnesota over the weekend to look for housing. She plans to make many more trips in the upcoming months in order to ease her transition.

 âÄúI look forward to meeting and getting to know students,âÄù Hanson said. âÄúI hope that [students] feel thereâÄôs an open door in my office.âÄù