Kathleen Enz Finken, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, is Cal Poly’s new provost, starting in February.

Finken will replace Cal Poly provost Robert Koob, who has held the position since 2008. Cal Poly’s comprehensive polytechnic environment is what attracted Finken to the position, she wrote in an email statement.

“It is an approach which, combined with ‘Learn By Doing’ provides students with excellent preparation for success in their lives and careers,” Finken wrote.

Finken is a “natural fit” for Cal Poly, said Rachel Fernflores, chair of the Cal Poly Consultative Search Committee that recommended Finken to Armstrong.

“When we brought her to campus, people thought that she’s the right person to approach the types of issues that we have right now,” Fernflores said.

Those issues include balancing the increasing budget cuts that Cal Poly is facing, with a commitment to continuing Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” tradition, Fernflores said.

“We’re going to need to be industrious to do that, and we’re going to need a problem solver,” Fernflores said.

Finken expressed her eagerness to tackle these difficult problems when she spoke at a forum Oct. 7. Students, faculty and staff present at the forum all responded positively, Fernflores said.

According to Fernflores, Finken’s diversity of experience also made her an attractive candidate. She said, as a former art history professor, Finken has what it takes to further unify the polytechnic and liberal arts disciplines at Cal Poly.

“She speaks to people on all sides of the campus in a way that makes us feel like she could really bring us together,” Fernflores said.

Cal Poly is currently attempting to merge the liberal arts disciplines with the university’s traditionally strong engineering, architecture and math and science majors, Fernflores said. Cal Poly administration wants to move toward producing graduates that are as well rounded as possible, Fernflores said.

“There’s an interest in making sure that our graduates are as prepared as they possibly can be,” she said.

Finken’s appeal to people from every discipline can help further this goal, Fernflores said.

Finken’s background in the liberal arts also makes her the ideal balance to president Armstrong’s agriculture background, said Linda Halisky, college of liberal arts dean.

“Since we do have a new president from the polytechnic side, to have a provost, the second-in-command, from the liberal arts, it really moves our comprehensive polytechnic vision forward,” Halisky said.

Finken’s time as provost at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse also provides a compliment to Armstrong, who is still in his first year as president of the university, Halisky said.

“She’s a sitting provost already, we have a new president and we’re embracing this new comprehensive polytechnic vision, so it’s great to have someone who already knows how to do the provost job,” Halisky said.

Finken’s previous experience as provost in Wisconsin, as well as her liberal arts background, made her recommendation a unanimous decision by all the deans at Cal Poly, which is rare, Halisky said.

Halisky personally couldn’t happier with the decision, she said.

“I am ecstatic that we have leadership that is willing to embrace the potential of this (comprehensive polytechnic) vision,” Halisky said.

Finken was also the first choice among student representatives, said Associated Students, Inc. president Kiyana Tabrizi.

Tabrizi was part of the search committee that brought Finken to campus for interviews, and had multiple chances to speak with the future provost.

It became clear that Finken was one of the top candidates, Tabrizi said.

“She seems like a problem solver and a listener,” Tabrizi said. “She interacts very well with students, and she understood us very well.”

Finken explained that she was drawn to problem solving, which is necessary in administration roles and exactly what Cal Poly is looking for in a provost right now. Finken has a history of tackling difficult problems at her previous jobs, Tabrizi said.

“She said administrative leadership was just in her blood,” Tabrizi said. “(In the past) she’s identified what the issues were and wanted to solve them instead of just sitting back, and that’s key to the role of an administrator.”

For Tabrizi, Finken’s selection was the right choice.

“I was definitely very happy when I heard the news that she had been selected,” Tabrizi said.

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1 Comment

  1. Linda Halisky, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts is scary.

    When the new dean of the college of engineering was recently hired, Halisky, who headed the search stated in the press she pushed for a women dean simply to have another women’s voice represented at the table. Translation, her recommendation wasn’t based on the candidate’s qualifications or how they could be leveraged to elevate Cal Poly. It was about gender and breaking up what Halisky clearly perceives as the boy’s club.

    Now she’s pushed a women provost with a liberal arts background. Art history? Are you kidding?!

    Note to Linda Halisky. The university’s name is California Polytechnic for a reason. It’s not California College for the Arts. As such, Cal Poly shouldn’t be trying to be all things to all people.

    Cal Poly has been successful because it’s remained steadfastly dedicated to a core vision and educational approach. While tweaks are of course necessary, going on a personal mission seemingly dedicated to diluting the polytechnic out of Cal Poly is hardly a recipe for improvement. Doing so is as foolish as Amherst College attempting to become a Cal Poly.

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