The University of Minnesota has changed drastically since Karen Hanson graduated in 1970.
On recent trips to campus, she felt lost in a sea of new buildings.
“Every now and again I saw a building I knew and thought ‘Oh, now I know where I am!’ ”
She was on campus briefly in September for a public forum. Come February, she’ll be back full-time as the University’s second-in-command.
President Eric Kaler selected Hanson on Oct. 10 from a field of four finalists to take over for Tom Sullivan as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost last Monday. Sullivan has held the position since 2004.
Hanson will leave her position as executive vice president of Indiana University and provost of its Bloomington campus to begin at the University.
“With Karen as provost, we get the spectacular combination of a leader with a strong academic record and someone who has honed her skills as a seasoned administrator,” Kaler said in a press release last week.
The University was a big part of Hanson’s early life — from childhood on the St. Paul campus to her undergraduate career in Minneapolis. Hanson’s father was a faculty member in the University’s animal sciences department. Both of Hanson’s older brothers also graduated from the University.
While in high school, Hanson worked at the Campus Club — a mostly-faculty membership club on the fourth floor of Coffman Union.
Having spent so much time on campus, she’s excited about her new job at the University, but sorry her father couldn’t see her “homecoming.”
Hanson fondly remembers her undergraduate education at the University in the ’70s.
“I was really happy in college,” she said. “I lived at home — that meant I would go off to campus early in the morning when my dad would go to work … I didn’t go home until 6 p.m., usually.”
Between classes, Hanson was a daytime fixture on the Minneapolis campus. She took advantage of the University’s cultural and academic opportunities — plays, concerts, honors program, seminars and lectures. Looking back, she said those diverse advantages of a big research institution made an impression on her.
“I took a lot of [courses] in a lot of areas because I wasn’t exactly certain what I was going to specialize in,” Hanson said. “I don’t remember not liking a course.”
Ultimately, she settled on philosophy and math. Before she finished, she dabbled in anthropology, sociology and even took a course in mythology.
She went on to receive a Master of Arts and a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard University in 1980.
‘The alma mater pull’
Although Hanson has been approached by many higher education search committees recruiting administrators, she said she turned them all down —until now.
The “alma mater pull” and Minnesota’s commitment to higher education were factors in her decision.
But state cuts have called that commitment into question.
Hanson will arrive at the University already familiar with state cuts to higher education. This biennium, Indiana University’s budget was cut 5.4 percent — the University’s was cut 7.8 percent.
Echoing statements Kaler has made, Hanson said universities need to plan ahead and make efficiency decisions in order to survive with less funding from the government.
“We haven’t had terrible disruptions [in Indiana] because the writing was on the wall about state revenues — we began to plan for the likelihood of cuts and decisions,” she said. “It’s also made us look closely at our own priorities and be very self-conscious about what must be preserved and enhanced.”
But Hanson sees differences in the higher education climate in the two states.
“Indiana has a slightly different approach to taxation and to funding to education and always has,” she said. Despite cuts from the state, Minnesotans are proud of their university, Hanson insisted.
“There’s a kind of conviction there — it’s not always articulated, [but] it’s felt in the bones,” she said.
Hanson lamented the rise in tuition, course material and textbook costs for students.
“It used to be possible for people who were going to school to work enough to be able to cover a lot of their costs, but that’s increasingly different.”
In recent years, Indiana University worked with publishers to provide electronic textbooks to students that work with Kindles, iPads and other mobile devices to deliver classroom content to students at 35 percent of a textbook’s price, she said.
Her pay will increase from $302,000 to $390,000 when she makes the move to Minnesota —a 14 percent raise over Sullivan’s salary — but she didn’t know that when she began the process, she said.
“You don’t embark on this with any sort of sense of what your salary will be,” she said.
Hanson made the importance of a well-rounded education a major point of her provost candidate forum in September. She stressed it again in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.
“[Science, technology, engineering and math] fields are important for national advancement, but it’s also important that we remember the value of lives well lived and of understanding the human condition,” she said.
Kaler has said Hanson’s background in the humanities complements his own science-based education.
The Board of Regents reviewed a plan Friday to increase student enrollment by 1,000 in the STEM fields starting in 2012. No enrollment increases are planned in the College of Liberal Arts.
“[The argument] needn’t always be cast as science against the humanities,” Hanson said, arguing that humanities are relatively inexpensive to fund.
A good track record
Anything that has to do with academics — from curriculum changes to hiring deans — falls under the provost’s jurisdiction, Sullivan said.
Hanson is well-prepared for the position, with a strong command of both student and faculty issues, said Pete Goldsmith, Indiana University’s dean of students. She began as provost at Indiana University in 2007.
“She’s been incredibly supportive of students and student affairs,” Goldsmith said. He and Hanson frequently met with the heads of student committees at monthly advisory meetings to discuss University policy issues.
“She’s a very good listener,” said Randy Arnold, a member of the Bloomington Faculty Council.
Hanson joined Indiana University’s philosophy department as a lecturer in 1976 and became its chairwoman about 20 years later. She also worked as an adjunct instructor in comparative literature, American studies and gender studies departments.
As provost, Hanson remained highly attuned to Indiana faculty issues, serving as co-chairwoman on the faculty committee of the Bloomington campus, Goldsmith said.
“I’m very sorry to lose her here,” Goldsmith said. “She’s a remarkable administrator.”
Hanson and her husband Dennis Senchuk, a philosophy professor, have two 21-year-old children enrolled at Indiana University. They also have a Cairn terrier named Roxy, which “kind of looks like the dog in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Hanson said.
She visited Minnesota over the weekend to look for housing. She plans to make many more trips in the upcoming months in order to ease her transition.
“I look forward to meeting and getting to know students,” Hanson said. “I hope that [students] feel there’s an open door in my office.”
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