One-On-One with Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D.

The Scranton Journal talks to Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D., Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs about his plans for the University.

Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D.
Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D.

Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D., the new provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, talks about his plans for the University.

You arrived in Scranton in July 2018. What has been your top priority so far as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs?

Before arriving in Scranton, I was aware of the strong sense of community at the University, and it was important to me to understand that community. My top priority initially was to listen to folks around campus to hear about their passion for the University and their concerns about the future.

If we are to maintain the strong reputation of The University of Scranton, we will need to work together and listen to each other for new ideas and opportunities. These conversations have led to another top priority, which is to continue to unleash the tremendous possibilities for innovation among our campus community. It has been exciting to talk with faculty, staff, students and administrators about the many opportunities that exist for our future.

The members of our University community have many opinions about what makes this place so unique. What’s your opinion?

Mission and loyalty. While almost every college or university talks about the importance of their mission, Scranton lives out its mission by concentrating on a quality education that truly matters in the world and that transforms the student experience. As evidenced by the Mission Priority Examen review that we undertook last year, it’s clear that Ignatian values are infused throughout this entire campus. Adhering to mission is not always easy, and I have been impressed with the willingness of University employees and students to engage the difficult dialogue that leads to such a profound Jesuit educational experience. Because of this mission-centered approach, the campus community is tremendously loyal to the institution. It’s been great fun to hear from alumni about the transformational experience they had as students and how this translates into a lifelong commitment to the University. Faculty and staff love this place too, and their loyalty to the University is amazing.

You’ve done a lot of volunteer/service work, including conflict resolution at the Twomey Center for Peace through Justice at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. How do your service experiences influence your work today?

I am grateful to have grown up in a tradition that placed a high value on service to others, whether that meant helping your neighbor who is having difficulties or traveling to other areas to grow in solidarity with those who have fewer material resources.

My six years of voluntary service work at Loyola were transformative in every way possible, and they were my first encounter with Jesuit education. I was an Iowa farm kid suddenly living in a diverse urban environment with a rich cultural tradition. Working with conflict resolution and diversity programs in the public schools and through community organizations opened my eyes to the stark reality of privilege and the needs of poorer communities. Racial and economic inequality disturbed me to the core. When I went to graduate school afterward, it was with a commitment to myself that my personal vision for higher education was to create a fairer and more just world around us.

What concerns do you have for higher education, and how is Scranton getting out ahead of those concerns?

Higher education is at a crossroads in many ways because of the declining demographics of high school students and the increased competition among other colleges and universities. It’s vital that we maintain the competitive advantage of a University of Scranton education. In order to do this, we’ll need to continue our core traditions of academic excellence in the liberal arts and humanities while at the same time innovating in new programs and unique engaged ways of teaching. I think we will see some exciting growth in mission-based graduate programs and other professional programs in future years.

You have talked about the importance of focusing on education that “matters to the world.” What does that mean to you, and how will you achieve it?

At Commencement, when we hand a diploma to a graduate, we want to know that we have enabled them for success in their careers and communities, but we also want them to feel a sense of responsibility to use their Scranton education to make a positive difference as men and women for others. It’s our responsibility to provide them with the education and experiences during their time as students to help them understand why this is important. If we do that right, Scranton alumni will continue to be known as positive change agents within their communities and throughout the world.

Your degrees are in sociology. How does your research inform your work in higher education?

I use my training as a sociologist every day as provost. Sociology is the study of human interactions and the ways that we create institutions, such as schools and universities, to help us function more efficiently as a society. I’m fortunate to have a job that requires me to build teams and meet goals by helping folks to interact efficiently and effectively. This might mean facilitating a variety of different opinions within a committee meeting to get to the best decision or structuring an organizational area in a way that allows the greatest individual fulfillment and productivity while meeting community goals. Sociology is also about using data to inform our decisions. While I have attended some great higher education leadership forums, I would say that my training in sociology and conflict resolution have made the greatest impact on my leadership style as a provost.

Over the next year, a team of nearly 50 members of the staff and faculty will develop a data-informed, five-year Strategic Enrollment Plan (SEP) grounded in the University’s mission and vision. What’s your role in this process, and why is it important for The University of Scranton?

This is one of the most exciting initiatives I’m involved with. Over the summer, Father Pilarz and I discussed the need for a strategic approach to enrollment planning at the University and wanted a process that allows broad campus discussion. We have five working groups centered on the issues of undergraduate programs, graduate programs, student support, finance and financial aid, and marketing and admissions. I am chairing the council that oversees the process and working groups. This is a very data-informed process that is already producing some innovative ideas for the University.

What can we expect to come from the SEP?

By the end of the year, we’ll have a five-year strategic plan for strengthening enrollment. This will contain several specific strategies that will help us feel confident in our short- and long-term enrollment approach, including new curricular and co-curricular programs. It’ll be an excellent way of demonstrating how we’ll maintain the tradition of excellence and mission while staying relevant to a changing world around us. It’s important to note that this participatory process of enrollment strategy will extend beyond this year and into the future. We’ll continue to creatively renew our strategies in order to get the most engaged and best-fit students to benefit from a Scranton education.

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