Chancellor Candidates State Their Case

Crystal Sexton Poates, Staff Reporter

IUS Students had opportunities this month for question-and-answer sessions of the two finalists vying to replace Chancellor Ray Wallace, who died in 2021.

One was a familiar name: Kelly Ryan, who has been interim chancellor since last July. The other, Deborah Ford, has Louisville ties and is currently chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, a job she has had since 2009. Both women appeared at a series of town halls during which not only students, but faculty and staff could hear each of them highlight their qualifications and explain why she deserved their support.

But Ford’s name and resumé were released barely two hours before she met with students who showed up for a 30-minute meeting set up a few weeks in advance. With so little notice, “The Horizon” couldn’t send a reporter to this session.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s resumé plus confirmation that she is seeking the permanent job arrived in student emails an entire day ahead of her Q&A forum. The handful of students at the January 19 session were mainly Student Government Association officers.

Despite an extensive resumé that dates to her first teaching position in Maryland in 2005, it was crucial for students to directly ask Ryan questions. From the beginning of her interview until the end, she repeatedly urged students to email her or set up an appointment if they have something on their minds. “My door is always open,” she said, reminding them that she meets often with SGA and other student groups.

While reflecting on her six months as interim chancellor, Ryan said her main goal has been being responsive to students and others, such as adding game tables, re-opening “The Commons” cafeteria, and bringing in franchised restaurants. Another Spirit Day is planned for Feb. 11, and she hopes more students will participate.

Her IUS career began in 2007 as an American history professor. She rose to dean of social sciences in 2016 and in 2020, during the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic, was promoted to lead all IUS academic units as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. She holds three history degrees: a doctorate from the University of Maryland, a master’s from Boston College, and a bachelor’s from George Mason University.

Ford, the other finalist, met with IUS students last Monday. Because Horizon reporters did not cover her session, SGA Vice President Dylan Mapp described the interview afterward.

One question asked was, “What problems do you perceive at IUS and how do you plan to address them if you get the position?”

Ford — who wants IUS students to be referred to as “future graduates” — replied that student retention and the graduation rate seemed to be the main problems, according to Mapp. She would try to tackle these through what she called, “student success focus” — which may include improved academic advising and encouraging students to take at least 15 credit hours each semester.

In her current job, Ford increased the first- to second-year retention rate from 58% in 2010 to 74% in 2014, according to her resumé. She also has increased minority enrollment from 26% to 37% in 10 years. This helped Ford increase the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduates by 10 points in a decade. Parkside is one of 13 four-year institutions in the University of Wisconsin system. The average age of undergraduates there is 22, and 20% of them are 25 or older.

Before becoming chief executive of the 3,900-student campus in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, Ford was vice president of student affairs at the University of West Florida and dean of students at Spalding University in Louisville. She holds a doctorate in educational administration and a bachelor’s in counseling and guidance from the University of Louisville and a master’s in education from Indiana University.

At IUS, the town halls and ongoing search for a permanent chancellor follow the 2021 death of Ray Wallace, who had led this campus for seven years. Wallace stepped down from the top job here amid failing health. He died a few weeks later. Another IU executive filled in as acting chancellor for the 2021-22 academic year until Ryan was promoted to interim chancellor.

Faculty and students eagerly await a decision on who will become the next Chancellor of Indiana University Southeast.