Elizabeth Capaldi, Provost
Elizabeth Capaldi, Provost
Large maps of UB's North and South Campuses hang above Elizabeth Capaldi's computer monitor in the inner sanctum of the provost's suite in Capen Hall. Capaldi, who arrived last July, may still need one more map to see where everything is at UB. What will be on that map in the future is something she will play a central role in determining.
In urging UB to push at the frontiers of research knowledge, Capaldi can draw on her own scholarly background. She is a psychologist who specializes in the study of eating; her publishing record includes nearly 50 journal articles, coauthorship of an introductory psychology textbook-now in its fourth edition-and the editing of two books in her specialty area.
As an academic leader, she has formidable experience, as provost of the University of Florida, as president of the American Psychological Society, and as professor and department chair at Purdue University. A native of New York City, Capaldi received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Rochester and a doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.
After only a few months on the job, Capaldi seems entirely at ease in her new position. Her office, with its terrific view of the North Campus, is casually appointed with books and official documents, yet is personalized with the screensaver photos of her beloved dogs on her computer monitor, and portraits of family members. She exudes warmth and friendliness, inviting visitors to call her "Betty." Yet her breezy manner belies a forceful leader who has quickly surmised where the university has been during its long and varied history, and where it's now headed.
"Elizabeth Capaldi possesses a rare blend of qualities that are essential for this position," UB President William R. Greiner said at the time of her appointment. "She is an accomplished scholar who is nationally renowned in her field; she is a seasoned academic administrator with experience at a major research university. She comes to UB highly recommended by her peers at the University of Florida, where she was an important leader during a decade in which that university rose to national prominence in its sponsored program activity."
"We are a major public research institution and that is our unique feature," Capaldi says during an election-day interview. "The research aspect makes us different from a SUNY four-year college. We're fortunate that we have the research mission combined with graduate and professional education. We also have the teaching mission at the undergraduate level." A top-tier public research university, Capaldi points out, "does a very good job of integrating all these functions, which is the benefit of attending an institution like ours as an undergraduate. You can meet people who are on the cutting edge of their disciplines."
For some time now, UB has been promoting its position as a leading research university as a way to attract those undergraduate students who would likely flourish in such a setting, because of the proximity to, and even involvement with, research faculty and other scholars who are enmeshed in pioneering investigations. "We're going to try, over the next few years, to get our undergraduates more involved in research, working with faculty directly, because that is the greatest benefit of their being here," says Capaldi. "I've always had undergraduates working in my own lab. It's good for them-they see how knowledge is changing all the time."
apaldi recalls her father being surprised that her undergraduate program was quite different from his course of study a generation earlier. "My father understood that when you went to school, you learned 'X,' and none of it was what I was learning. His reaction was, 'What happened?'" she recalls, laughing. "Things change, we learn something new.
"Look at all the developments in genetics. When I went to school, we didn't know anything about the structure of DNA. [Without such knowledge], we couldn't have had the human genome project. We couldn't have gene therapy. You go to school now and you learn all that. So the research mission for us needs to be a prime focus for its own sake, because that's one of our roles, to produce new knowledge. But then we also need to integrate that research experience as part of our education, so that our students learn from it as well."
Indeed, UB has "all the elements-medicine, engineering, law, pharmacy, dentistry, and a large, solid arts and sciences core-that you need to be a top comprehensive research university," Capaldi pointed out in her "academic state of the university" address October 3. In fact, she would argue, it is quite unusual for a university to have such a range of professional and academic opportunities. For example, at Purdue University, "they have very good engineering, but they don't have a medical school. If you have both-as we do here at UB-you can do biomedical engineering, for example. Moreover, we have pharmacy, we have dentistry. You can do anything you want here. The interdisciplinary work is so exciting right now. We can do exciting drug discovery work here because of our traditional strengths in pharmacy and in the biomedical field. That's something that can really move us up in the rankings."
Settling into Buffalo after more than a decade in Florida, Capaldi pronounces the UB campus "beautiful, though we could use more trees." As a New York State native, she's undaunted by snow, and is pleased that her new home in Clarence Center, with its seven and a half acres, offers plenty of room for her dogs Marcus (a 110-lb. Kuvasz) and Samantha (a 116-lb. Bull Mastiff) to run. Capaldi is reportedly an excellent cook and a self-described fitness fanatic.
In October, Capaldi welcomed Jaylan S. Turkkan, whom she helped recruit as UB's new vice president for research. Turkkan has an extensive record as an academic researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and as a research administrator at the National Institutes of Health and related agencies. "Her demonstrated ability to put groups of researchers together in interdisciplinary teams to solve critical research problems, is precisely what UB needs at this time to allow us to compete at the cutting edge of many research areas," Capaldi says of her new colleague. In keeping with Capaldi's vision, Turkkan has vowed to catapult UB into the top tier of research institutions.
When Capaldi turns to the subject of teaching, it is with obvious relish. Even with her role as university provost, she plans to remain active as a teacher-to the extent her schedule permits-in the psychology department, where she is a full professor, and in the Graduate School of Education. Capaldi rates the quality of teaching at UB "very high," adding, "I think that the faculty here do a very good job in the classroom and that the students appreciate that. Where we have work to do, and where we're going to focus our efforts, is on the processes of the student experience." The university, she explains, has had separate offices that deal with the various aspects of this experience, such as financial aid, housing, academic advisement, career planning, health issues, etc., sometimes with confusing results for students-as-customers. "We're trying to turn that around and make that process more student-oriented instead of office-oriented."
elping this effort is the more inviting ambiance made possible by the extensive apartment-style campus housing already inhabited, or currently under construction, on UB's North Campus. "It's going to change the nature of the university, making it more of a residential campus, while still serving the local community," Capaldi says. "We're going to be able to attract more and more students from out of state, helping us become more nationally competitive in the process."
In frequent talks around campus, Capaldi has pointed out that on the various dimensions of a quality university, such as grant money and faculty awards, UB appears about two-thirds of the way through the list of member institutions of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU). In fact, UB is notably small compared to the top universities in the country, yet it must compete for National Science Foundation grants and similar awards with much larger, and better funded, AAU public institutions such as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
"We are way down in terms of faculty size; it's very hard to compete with universities that have twice as many faculty members," she says. While UB is considered big within the SUNY system, it is considered small nationally. Capaldi would like the university "to grow faculty size." The university wants to hire the best faculty, "giving us a tremendous opportunity to improve in quality as we increase in size," she told those attending her October address.
In particular, the university plans to increase its enrollment of master's degree students, a direction that may interest many alumni. "They should come back!" Capaldi enthuses. "We have a number of new master's programs, and we'll expand our current ones as well. For instance, we plan a new master's of public health in epidemiology, almost formalized. And we have a number of new master's degrees in computer-related disciplines, which are very, very popular right now. (UB is now offering two new combined degrees, a B.S./M.S. in computer science and a B.S./M.S. in computational physics and physics.) There is a great demand in industry for people who have such training. Then there is the use of the computer for artistic purposes-the university will offer a master's degree in digital art, which is, formally, an M.F.A. in media arts production and is awaiting SUNY approval. Also planned are master's degrees in subject content areas combined with a teacher's certification in those areas."
She continues: "The master's degree is the entry degree in many professions now where it didn't used to be. We're providing an M.B.A. online, so if somebody out there wants to get an M.B.A., no matter where they are, we can do that for them. And we're also going to be providing an increased number of certificate programs-this is a new educational component. It might be that you need an upgrade in some knowledge area, without needing to enroll in an entire degree program. A number of people find that they're out in the workplace and they need to pick up some kind of expertise they don't have. They would then like to have suitable documentation to attest to this new knowledge."
According to Capaldi, the university envisions about 400 more master's degree students a year, for the next four years. "By 2004, we'll be at 26,000 total enrollment. We think we'll level off in enrollment at 28,000-30,000 in the long run, say, in about 10 to 15 years."
What kind of university might alumni expect to find in five years? "It's going to be one that has moved higher in the rankings," Capaldi asserts. "It's already strong as a national research university, but we're not as highly ranked as we think we can be. We think we have room to move closer to the very top. And we think all the pieces are here to do just that."