University Provost Shatters Glass Ceiling

By Daniel Clarke

(TEANECK) – Dr. Gillian Small was appointed university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs on Aug. 1. She made it through an extensive search involving a number of selection committees and interviews with faculty, staff and students. She now holds the university’s second-highest position.

“Not only is she an exceptionally accomplished academic, researcher and administrator – she’s genuinely a nice person,” said Metro Provost Robert F. Vodde at a recent Town Hall meeting. “She’s personable, wholly unpretentious, easy to talk to, someone who you quickly come to appreciate and respect.”

Citing her involvement as a woman in science, she was asked to talk about her goals at the university with that in mind. Not discounting salary discrepancies in many sectors, she spoke about a more broad-reaching “leaky pipeline” of women through the educational system that the entire system needs to tackle. One where plenty of women enter, but not enough find themselves on the other end in high paying jobs or as accomplished academics.

“I’m not saying it’s just men that have a bias.” Small said. “Women have a bias against women as well, and it’s not intentional. Almost always it’s subliminal, so we have to work on that.”

Roadblocks, both experienced and anticipated, were discussed. She praised the many individuals at the university she spoke with whom she felt showed a genuine interest and excitement in truly improving FDU.

While the university found what it was looking for, Small also had a say in her appointment. One of her reasons for choosing FDU was the value she saw in its strategic plans, including those for the budget and facilities.

“Most institutions will have a strategic plan that they write and put on the shelf, but it’s not endeared to [them] in the same way that it is here,” she said.

Impressed with the progress already made with the plan, Small expressed her excitement and support. She highlighted the pharmacy program started on the Florham campus, which she feels is truly on its way to becoming a center of excellence.

By focusing on the university’s strengths and continuing to build excellent programs like these, she believes the university can distinguish itself and eventually become known for excellence in general.

When asked about the differences between FDU and CUNY, her workplace for the last 15 years and a school much larger than FDU, she said that perhaps the primary difference is that CUNY is a public university.

As a public university, she believes it receives a substantially higher number of low-income students, but doesn’t discount the programs FDU has that serve a similar population. In various ways, she suggested that many of CUNY’s colleges were not so different from FDU and are also similarly sized.

“In the end, working with students, you have the same goal,” she said. “You work with students to get the best possible education they can and provide them with the types of experiences that will help them either go into higher education or succeed in the job market.”

With her strong involvement in research, including a $2 billion initiative for CUNY’s science research and education and a $3.7 million grant from NSF, she values research as a necessity in an academic environment.

“By the time, in my field, a textbook is published, it’s out of date,” she said. “If you’re not keeping up with that, you’re, at best, teaching out-of-date information.”

She plans to take a careful look at the programs the university offers and will consider where resources should be allocated. This may involve both the addition of new programs as well as shrinking existing ones that are too weak, she said.

Another potential roadblock is the rift between the Metro and Florham campus. Small said she hopes to unite the different campuses to help the university branding effort, while also preserving the identities of the campuses.

“I don’t think the campuses should be competing with each other,” she said. “They should be combining and collaborating for the university.”