July 30 marked Waldrop’s first day as the university’s second-highest ranking official. Before beginning his tenure at UCF, Waldrop was the vice chancellor for research and economic development at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also served as vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Waldrop spoke about his first two months and what he has learned so far from communicating with students, faculty and administrators.

CFF: You began your duties as provost July 30. What have you accomplished in your first two months on the job?

Waldrop: I’ve really gotten to know a lot of the people here that make a difference at the university, certainly working very closely with administration, with the people that report to me, including deans, interacting with students, faculty and staff, and gotten to know the people and what they can do as well as what they want so I can then help support their ideas as well as my own ideas.

There have been a number of things we started working on. One of those is the strategic plan working with Vice President (Al) Harms, but also with all the folks within Academic Affairs to where we now have a draft planned that we’ll be finalizing over the next month.

I’ve been talking a lot with people about the College of Medicine and its role in starting to support some of the activities there that will make a big difference for the university.

CFF: In last semester’s open meeting, you said you never considered taking an administrative position until a search committee nominated you for this position. What qualifications made you an attractive candidate in the eyes of the committee?

Waldrop: First of all, the administrative experience that I’ve had. I’ve been a head of a program, an MDPH program. I’ve been, for a short time, an interim dean of a graduate college, an interim dean of a college of medicine and a chief research officer for many, many years. Another thing would be my commitment to the highest quality of education, research and service. It’s important at every university, but one has to demonstrate that, and I think my career demonstrates it. Finally, my willingness to listen to people, work with people, and for us to have our collective goals that we work together to reach.

CFF: What are the top concerns among UCF students and faculty?

Waldrop: I think first and foremost, the top three would be budget, budget and budget. We’re in uncertain times right now. The monies we receive from the state have gone down substantially over the last several years. Again, that’s not novel to us. That’s true all over the country.

A second thing would be, we’re growing very rapidly. Are we doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we’re protecting the quality of education that goes on at the university, at the same time meeting the absolute critical goal of providing access for the growing number of students coming from the state of Florida? I believe there is the commitment to do that, and, by and large, we have done that.

A third one, and I don’t say this to be funny, but it comes up from faculty and students a lot, and that’s parking. I personally don’t see it as as big of an issue, because there is abundant parking here compared to Chapel Hill, but it seems to be on everyone’s mind.

The other thing I would mention is some of the social issues that people are committed to and want to make sure we’re doing things in the correct way, whether it being the situation with Professor (Jennifer) Vest that’s being investigated now, or whether it’s other issues such as the one with LGBT that just popped up, and finally, something I’m very delighted to see a growing concern here, our green issues.

I was pleased to see the amount of recycling that goes on here. I was pleased to see the commitment to reducing energy consumption and our carbon footprint.

CFF: How do you plan to address those concerns?

Waldrop: I don’t think one individual can solve all of those, and some of the time they can’t. Let’s start with budget. A budget is something that, to a great degree, is out of our control. It depends on how the economy does, specifically as we drill down on the economy of Florida, there’s not a lot we can do to impact that.

The way we deal with it is to make sure we’re making the best decisions possible in terms of the expenditures and monies provided to us by the state of Florida and working very carefully with university leadership, deans, department chairs and with students.

The students have a great responsibility given the size of budget they match. I’m very pleased to see the students and administration worked well together, for example, some of the initiatives that have been done by Student Government using student fees really benefited the university very widely.

A second concern I mentioned was making sure we dealt appropriately with the social issues in front of us. I think the same thing is very true there. It starts with the upper administration of the university stating and standing behind their commitment to those issues. Certainly have heard President (John) Hitt do that on a number of occasions and in terms of my own position as provost, making sure I’m continually giving the message to the people underneath me of our commitment to those issues, including the deans.

For example, at an upcoming dean’s meeting, there is a fund administered through this office that’s used to hire minority faculty.

I met recently with the Black Faculty Association and they’re very pleased with that.

When I asked them if there are more things we could do to encourage use of that fund, they thought that there were, so I have them coming to an upcoming meeting that I have with the deans for them to present their ideas.

Parking is not about building more and more parking lots — I’m sure we’ll do some of that — but it’s also looking at how do we do alternative transportation, how do we reduce the need for more cars on campus. Some large steps have already been made, and I think we need to continue to pursue that.

In Chapel Hill, fewer than 50 percent of people who work there can park at the university, and almost no students have parking, it’s only a handful. The town of Chapel Hill capped their parking, but to make up for that there’s been a great use of park-and-ride lots, and they have a free bus system there, so some of that is already going on here as well. No one is ever happy with the amount of parking.

CFF: What challenges do you expect related to the budget situation?

Waldrop: We had a 1-percent cut at the beginning of the year. We were asked to prepare a scenario for up to a 5-percent cut, which we have done. We held back 3 percent. So assuming that things don’t get substantially worse, we think this year will be reasonable.

Budget scenarios prepared by my predecessor, Provost Hickey, are prepared to handle a roughly 5 percent budget cut. If it’s not worse than that, we’ll be OK.

Next year is a different story. We have the loss of the federal stimulus dollars, and we again are waiting to see the impact of the oil spill and the layoffs and just the overall U.S. economy and the economy here in Florida, so at this moment, it’s wait and see.

Having said that, we are preparing scenarios and looking at our calculations very carefully to deal with whatever the situation might be.

CFF: How are you prepared to meet the challenges of a fast-growing university?

Waldrop: It has been amazing, the amount of growth that has occurred here, that has been done with some cutting-edge activities. The partnership with regional campuses, the Direct Connect, is now being studied nationally by not only other universities but by some of the for-profit universities to see how that was managed.

An additional one is the use of online courses, whether it’s mixed mode or completely online or video streaming, has enabled us to continue to take in more students. Having the regional campuses enabled us to do that.

I think one of the things we would also want to look at is the mix of students we have coming into the university enrollment, not only from the standpoint of first time in college to students coming in through transfers, but also the makeup of making sure we keep attention to diversity as well. There are a lot of people looking specifically at this.

Our commitment is to provide high quality education in a way that allows access to as many possible students wanting to come to a university.

CFF: What has been your favorite part of working with the UCF community and living in Central Florida?

Waldrop: The quality people here at the university, whether it’s the people here in my office, whether it’s the leadership of the university.

I think the partnership that goes on among groups here is really amazing. We have an individual here from the faculty at Texas Christian University for the semester, he’s a fellow of the American Counsel on Education.

He was commenting that my position, myself as provost and Bill Merck as vice president (of administration and finance) and his role, that those two positions at many universities will often butt heads, but how closely he and I work together, and I think that’s true in all of the relationships.

It’s also true to a large degree among students, faculty and in administration.

The single biggest thing that makes your job bearable when you’re dealing with difficult situations is knowing you have people around you that have the same goals and values and will work together to deal with those issues. I’ve certainly seen that here.

Source: Central Florida Future, Waldrop finds first months productive, by Michael Salerno, contributing writer.  Published: Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 17:10.