Not long ago, Robert D. Koob, who replaced Bill Durgin in early October as Cal Poly provost, was enjoying his retirement so much that it took some time and a lot of thought for him to accept the position.
“I was retired and I hoped to stay retired,” Koob said. “But when I was offered the job, I thought about it for a while and accepted.”
Koob served as Cal Poly’s senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs from 1990 to 1995, and was recently appointed provost and vice president for academic affairs on a two year term at Cal Poly, which took effect Oct. 6.
His position, which is second in command to Cal Poly President Warren Baker, entails meeting with college deans, overlooking admissions, registration, financial aid, record keeping and other enrollment programs.
“The transition has been really busy, but the people have been really welcoming,” he said about his first weeks as provost. “My first impression is a positive one.”
He added that he was impressed with the young, high-quality faculty the university has hired.
One objective he hopes to accomplish during his self-imposed two-year term is to raise graduation rates. He seeks to accomplish that by instituting a degree audit program that allows students to clearly track classes needed for graduation.
“My goal is to make sure the students are the priority in everything we do and that they have the tools needed to graduate,” he said.
Dave Christy, Orfalea College of Business dean, said his first and so far only meeting with Koob was productive. He agreed with Koob’s plan to raise the university’s graduation rate and help students graduate on time. “We need to stop this talk about four or five years. Students need to graduate in four years; they need to take full loads,” Christy said.
“Students are our priority and we have to make sure students graduate on time. They’re our customers,” said College of Engineering Dean Mohammad Noori.
Thanks to his two-year term limit, Koob said there is pressure to get things done. However, other factors are also demanding quick response.
“There’s not just more urgency because I’m here for a short period of time, but because the economic climate is demanding some sort of response,” he said.
One factor he mentioned was the upswing in application rates thanks to a poor job market; people who can’t find jobs seek to go to university instead.
Students who wish to say at Cal Poly longer than four years are welcome to enroll in a graduate program. But “just to bounce around taking courses; pardon me for saying this, is a little selfish to the students who are qualified and don’t get to be admitted,” he said.
He wants to institute ways for students to remain in the Central Coast upon graduation.
“There are conversations I want to have with the community and the college of business about providing more opportunities for students to start businesses here,” he said.
Noori too stressed the importance of interdisciplinary programs, “It would be so valuable if engineering and business can work better together so that engineering graduates have a greater idea of what it’s like to work with businesses.”
For those who wonder why the university is constructing new buildings while concurrently cutting faculty and staff, Koob said the two issues are not connected.
“The money doesn’t come from the same pot,” he said. “Some of these projects were proposed and funded ten years ago when they were needed, then the economy tanked. It’s a false comparison.”
He thought Baker chose him to serve as provost because “he knows me well. We were colleagues, and he knows my accomplishments as a president at another institution. So after I retired and he was aware I was in town, he asked me if I’d consider the job,” Koob said.
Noori said that he is impressed with Koob.
“He’s a wonderful guy,” he said. “He had a very good experience here at Cal Poly, and he knows the challenges that face the university.”
“Consensus building is one of his greatest abilities,” Noori said. “All the colleges are facing the same budgetary problems and I’m very convinced we will collectively work to face those challenges.”
He added that Koob will pave the road for the upcoming provost during his two years here.
Koob wants to go back to being retired eventually. “I’m doing this because I enjoy doing it. But it’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t need to build a resume,” he said. “I don’t want to die a provost.”
Once finished serving his time at Cal Poly, the licensed pilot hopes to continue to sail boats, ride his motorcycle, travel the world and spend more time with his wife, Yvonne, and their eleven grandchildren.
Before retiring, Koob served as president at his undergraduate alma mater, University of Northern Iowa, from 1995 to 2006. During his time there, UNI’s endowment grew by more than 100 percent. Enrollment and graduation rates also hit record levels.
Koob also served many high ranking positions such as vice president for academic affairs and interim president at North Dakota State University from 1973 to 1990, before resigning to serve as vice president for academic affairs at Cal Poly.