Provost candidate Nancy Mathews shares her priorities at last open forum


Provost candidate Nancy Mathews spoke on March 3 at the last of five open forums.

Mathews discussed what she calls the turning point of higher education along with her leadership strategies if selected as Central Michigan University's next provost. 

She spoke about the demographic cliff that is causing a decline in colleges throughout the United States and said Michigan is one of the few states that will be impacted severely. 

“It’s not hard to conclude that higher education is indeed in a state of crisis,” she said.

Mathews said her first priority would be to refocus CMU on academic excellence. She explained that adding majors more relevant to the changing workforce, continuing to advance in multiple classroom platforms and refocusing on liberal arts and STEM disciplines are all ways that the campus could attract more students. 

“We want students to be prepared to lead and become civically engaged,” Mathews said. “These are the things that are coming forward in a contemporary curriculum." 

Mathews discussed her second priority – to identify the best growth and retention strategies that increase enrollment. 

She said that traditional learning styles will continue to be important while keeping online opportunities as an option as well. Expanding credential approaches such as offering competency-based learning and having degree options that can build upon each other, may appeal to incoming students.

“A lot of parents and families are looking for additional ways to credential through certificates− these stackable types of approaches,” Mathews said. 

Mathews mentioned redefining the academic year by creating a three-year pathway and offering more co-op opportunities. She explained that there’s an increase in skill-based jobs compared to jobs that require a degree, so training students for those jobs will prove beneficial.

“Just because they haven’t been done in the past, doesn’t mean they might not be an excellent pathway for the future,” Mathews said, referring to an adjusted academic year. 

Another issue Mathews said is important to her is creating a welcoming campus for all students with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). She wants to create more opportunities for diverse perspectives to be heard and suggested an assessment to determine who is and who is not benefiting from the DEI changes made on campus. 

Mathews said, if appointed to the position, she would ensure all voices on campus are heard and respected, put the health and well-being of staff, faculty and students first and empower deans in their work. 

Audience Questions

An audience member asked Mathews what she saw as the role of non-tenure-track faculty at CMU.

“I believe there’s a strong role for non-tenure track faculty to play,” she said. “It’s a fragile one because in changing budget times, often the part-time faculty… are typically the first ones to be let go."

Another audience member wanted to know how Mathews can respond to dwindling faculty and resources as a provost. 

“The unfortunate reality is really setting the strategic priorities and deciding which areas are going to grow and which areas might not grow,” Mathews said. “I don’t think there’s going to be consensus about what those priorities are,”. 

An online viewer asked Mathews what ideas she offers to help support interdisciplinary programs. She responded that she would look for ways to bring like-minded faculty together, so they can coordinate activities with their field of study. She said she would encourage them in ways such as research funding.

Another online viewer asked how Mathews would build and maintain morale in the community. She explained that she would implement activities to boost morale on campus, but said her main focus would be to build trust with the community.

Lastly, an audience member asked what her experience was with internationalization and what she believed the value of internationalizing was for a university. 

“I think the focus on global learning programs, whether they are virtual or whether the study abroad is in person, should continue,” she said. 

Mathews Background

After receiving a bachelor’s in biology from Penn State University, Mathews worked toward completing a master's and doctoral degree in forest biology from the State University of New York. 

She has worked as a professor of wildlife fisheries biology at the University of Vermont and has held the position as dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources since 2014. 

Before her position in Vermont, she took on the role of becoming a professor of wildlife ecology and environmental studies for 19 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.