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Final vice chancellor candidate Charles speaks to campus

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Jazmin Ramos/Collegian

Dr. Kevin E. Charles, the assistant vice president of student and academic services at the University of New Hampshire, held a public forum Tuesday evening to discuss his plans for the future should he become a vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts.

The session was one of two Charles held that day; the first was restricted to students only, with the later public forum welcoming everyone. He was the last of the four candidates for the position of vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life to hold such sessions over the past week.

Approximately forty people turned up for the public session at 4 p.m. in the Campus Center basement, most of whom appeared to be UMass faculty and staff, along with a handful of students and Amherst residents.

Charles received his B.S. in Health and Physical Education from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, later going on to earn an M.S. in Health Education and a D.Ed. in Higher Education, both from Pennsylvania State University. Copies of his resume were handed out at the session, revealing that he has worked at a collegiate level since 1982. Charles started out working for the residence hall programs at Penn State, eventually moving up to managerial positions with health services and student affairs at Penn State, Western Kentucky University, and UNH. Now he hopes to add UMass to that already lengthy list.

After introducing himself, Charles informed the crowd about his motives for applying for the position, as well as the aspects of his credentials that set him apart from the other three candidates.

“I’m applying for the position because it’s a step up for me,” he said. “Unlike the other candidates, I’m not a sitting vice chancellor. I do have one year of experience as an interim vice, and so I’ve been around the table and I’ve been in that role, but the job is so different at that point; it’s about maintaining the status quo until new leadership comes in. So that’s what I did for that year [2003]…and from that point on I had decided that what I’d like to do is to move to a vice chancellor position.

“I’d love to stay in New England,” he went on. “I liked Kentucky, and I’m from Pennsylvania so of course I’ll always love Pennsylvania, but New England is really special. But it has to be the right professional opportunity as well, and this looks like it. [UMass] looks like a university on the move; it looks like a university with the potential to do some new things, and also looks like a university that is very challenged, especially with finances.”

Charles has certainly had some experience with that. In 2009, the University of New Hampshire was able to turn a small profit on their once-indebted operating revenue after several rounds of layoffs, tuition and fee increases, and other cost-cutting measures.

Indeed, Charles worked quickly to stamp out any doubts that he was unsuited to deal with such unprecedented challenges, stating that it was “extremely exciting” for him to possibly be able take on those challenges again in the future.

Charles also highlighted his plans for increasing student enrollment and retention rates, the “fundamental principle” being “to go where people are,” spreading the reach of UMass’ sphere of influence.

“Having a one-on-one conversation is much more powerful than having a brochure on hand. When you do recruit students, there has to be a support system in place for retainment purposes.”

Charles also revealed some of his priorities for the near future when prompted during a subsequent question and answer session.

“I think that I would put my number one priority as having an engaged, involved, vibrant student body that is connected to the offices and services that I am responsible for in a way that is unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t think it’s unrealistic for an institution like [UMass] to say that we’re going to have the best student affairs organization, at least in New England.

“I would also like to know that the Living and Learning Communities…are thriving and that we’ve got great faculty involved in them, and that everything is being assessed…that finances may be challenging, but we’re managing them because we’ve got the right tools, and more importantly the right people. And I think everybody will be generally happy with what we’re doing. That would be my vision.”

How will he know if everyone is happy? Charles stressed the importance of campus-wide questionnaires and surveys, citing a 90 percent response rate at UNH.

“Focus groups are a big part of what we do [at UNH]…ranging from focus groups on health issues to focus groups of RAs saying how all their residents perform,” he said.

When asked what he felt his biggest non-financial challenges would be, Charles said that assessing his new work environment would be the most significant.

“As with any new job, there are fundamental challenges. One is who is there, and what they think: Is there a culture, a history in the organization that supports positive and forward thinking, or is there one that says we ought to maintain the status quo? What’s typical is that there’s someone who’s involved in that, so I think it’s a challenge to assess that and make sure that the leader of that organization is making clear that there probably will be some things that need to change over time.”

Cameron Ford can be reached at cjford@student.umass.edu.

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