Newly hired University of Missouri Provost Garnett Stokes comes to her new position with many plans to improve the university’s academic programs. Stokes led as provost and executive vice president at Florida State University and handled many situations involving Title IX regulations, teacher salaries, and research achievement.
Now a month into her tenure as MU’s new Provost, Stokes said her first job was to get accustomed to an unfamiliar territory.
“I still have my Florida state license tags on my car,” Stokes said. “I feel sure there are people that are driving slowly behind me on the hill on Forum, when there’s ice and snow around, thinking ‘Oh, that Floridian just is really struggling with this.’”
Stokes held an almost identical position at Florida State and developed programs that caught the eyes of MU officials during their search for a new provost. While at Florida State, Stokes became highly involved in solving issues regarding Title IX, most notably the 2012 sexual assault investigation of former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Her actions led students to create the university’s “kNOw MORE” campaign to try and prevent sexual violence.
“I was proud of the fact that the students themselves came up with that, the ‘kNOw MORE’ campaign, and I think the students at Mizzou have and can do exactly the same thing, and that will be an important part of what we do going forward,” Stokes said.
Stokes has already taken action at MU to address Title IX issues in her first few weeks on campus. She announced Wednesday that Ellen Eardley, a partner at Mehri and Stalen law firm in Washington D.C., will become the school’s first Title IX Administrator, and will start working on April 20th. Eardley worked with Cyrus Mehri, who wrote the NFL’s Rooney Rule which required NFL teams to interview at least one candidate of color for general manager and head coaching positions. Eardley said Wednesday she is excited about getting to know the students and staff that she will serve.
“I want to make sure that everyone on campus feels like they have access to me to ask questions to get an understanding themselves of what the new Title IX-related policies and practices are going to be,” Eardley said.
Stokes agrees communication will be a key component to the solution.
“I see part of the role of that office to be really facilitating a climate where people feel free to engage in sometimes difficult conversations about what happens,” Stokes said. “I think people want to have the conversation and they want to be a part of making this an even better place for our students and staff and faculty.”
Stokes also created a program at Florida State that gave faculty members a raise if they received awards recognized by the AAU or National Research Council. Stokes said she plans to explore the possibility of creating a similar program at MU, hoping it would help the school improve its standing as a research institution. In an April 2014 study by the University of North Carolina, MU ranked last out of 58 AAU universities with available data in average professor salary.
“We clearly want to recruit and retain the very best faculty,” Stokes said. “Part of that is that they know that there are mechanisms in place for being rewarded for their successes once they’re here. It’s not just about the competitive package when they arrive.”
Meantime, the university recently allowed 110 faculty members to take voluntary buyouts from their jobs, leaving a huge hole administrators will need to fill. Stokes said she sees it as an opportunity to improve the faculty overall.
“What I’m looking forward to are some further conversations about ways in which we promote the kind of scholarship that crosses boundaries, that energizes our students and really enhances their education, but also improves our research portfolio,” Stokes said.
Stokes said she may hire short-term faculty to fill the positions, but is committed to finding tenured faculty that will stay with the university in the long term. Stokes has many other long-term goals to achieve as Provost, but for now, she is focused on settling in to her new environment.
“My winter coat, I’m afraid, was purchased in Los Angeles,” Stokes said. “The Chancellor said, ‘Garnett, you’re going to have to buy your coat here.’ But I am adapting. I love this community already.”