This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: April 21, 2005

Michael E. Ryan is vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

What are your priorities for the vice provost's office?
President Simpson has clearly articulated our institutional focus as academic excellence. Excellence must therefore be an integral part of our tripartite missions of teaching, research and service. High-quality educational and research programs will attract the most talented and promising faculty and students. One of the priorities of the vice provost's office will be to sustain and explore ways to enhance the excellence of our undergraduate educational programs. We would like to create a distinctive undergraduate experience and improve the rich educational opportunities offered to our students. Our educational and research enterprise also must be supported by high-quality academic services and systems. Thus, another priority of the vice provost's office will be to examine possibilities for enhancing the learning environment and the academic support services that we provide.

UB has always been known more for graduate education than undergraduate education. What's the most important thing UB can do to enhance the undergraduate experience and overcome this perception?
One of our great strengths is our faculty. I believe that the most important thing that we can do to enhance the undergraduate experience is to provide opportunities for greater interaction between students and faculty. The perception can be overcome by ensuring that prospective students and our local community are aware of the outstanding undergraduate education that UB offers. The Celebration of Academic Excellence on April 29 will celebrate and recognize several faculty members for their extraordinary contributions to teaching and research. This event will include an exhibition and recognition of undergraduate student projects across all disciplines. Artistic performances by undergraduate students also will comprise portions of the ceremony. Charles Ebert, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus, will be recognized for his 50 years of outstanding service to the university community. I believe that this forum, and others, for showcasing the extensive interactions that occur between undergraduate students and faculty will help in providing a more balanced perception and appreciation of the role of undergraduate education at UB.

There's a real push in the provost's office to get undergraduates involved in research. Why is that?
It is noteworthy that only 3 percent of all higher education institutions in the United States are classified as research universities. As such, UB has a responsibility to provide undergraduates with the opportunity to engage with faculty in research and creative work. Inquiry-based learning and the opportunity to advance knowledge through scholarly activity can provide students with a distinctive and transformative educational experience. This exposure may motivate students to continue their education at the post-baccalaureate level, either here at UB or elsewhere. Although many of our proactive students are engaged in these activities, I believe that we can do much more to foster this type of educational experience.

How do you convince a student interested in the arts and sciences to come to UB rather than, say, Binghamton?
UB is a public, comprehensive, research university. This means that our faculty members are engaged in teaching, or dissemination of knowledge, and research, or advancement of knowledge. I believe that our undergraduates benefit from the fact that the faculty bring this scholarship and expertise into the classroom and into the course content that is taught. Because of our comprehensive nature, there exists a broad array of degree programs and courses for students to choose from. This benefits undergraduates in two ways. First, it is not uncommon for entering freshmen to change their major. At UB, it is possible for students to find suitable alternatives that will meet their educational and career objectives without having to leave the institution. At a smaller institution, these options are much more limited. Second, students will have elective courses to select as part of their program and general education requirements. At UB, there is a wide range of courses to choose from, taught by scholars within that discipline. Obviously, at a smaller institution such as Binghamton, the choices are more limited. Finally, as a comprehensive public institution offering high-quality programs, we are an exceptional value because of our state-subsidized tuition.

You were intimately involved in undergraduate education for nearly 10 years as associate dean for student services in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. How has the approach to undergraduate education at UB changed in the past decade?
Technology has had a major impact on undergraduate education. The delivery of instruction, classroom demonstrations, access to information and communication between students and faculty have dramatically changed. Technology also has enabled academic units to collect information with regard to the academic performance of students during the semester. This has provided an opportunity for academic advising units to intervene or provide support to students that may be having difficulty, while there is still an opportunity to affect outcomes. I believe that there has been a shift in focus from what is being taught to what is being learned. Appropriately, we have become more holistically focused on the student and student outcomes.

What's the biggest difference between being a faculty member and an administrator?
As an administrator there is inherently a much greater time commitment related to administrative and managerial responsibilities. Your constituents entrust and expect you to do the right thing and to do things right. Although administration provides a demanding and novel set of challenges, I have found the experience to be very rewarding.

Do you still teach?
I am not teaching this particular semester, but I will certainly continue to teach in the future. Teaching is one of the major rewards of being a faculty member. Teaching and the interaction with students are the fun things that derive from working in a university.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
The question I would like to respond to is, What exciting project are you working on at present? Provost Tripathi recently asked Dennis Black, vice president for student affairs, and I to work together on a significant project to develop a vision for the undergraduate educational experience at UB. We have begun to articulate some guiding educational principles and will develop recommendations for achieving this vision by working with representatives across the university community. We are both very excited about being engaged on this important task.