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A Q&A with Isiaah Crawford

Written by Mike Thee
October 27, 2009

On a recent gray and soggy morning, Provost Isiaah Crawford took time to talk about his first year at Seattle University, how he’s enjoying the experience so far, the Academic Strategic Action Plan and what’s ahead for the university as an academic community.

B&M: Now that you have a year under your belt, what have your impressions of SU been so far?

Provost Crawford: I am very much enjoying the privilege of serving as provost of the university. It is a pleasure to work with so many highly capable and talented colleagues and students at a university that is so well positioned to firmly establish itself as one of the nation’s premier universities. We’re very fortunate to have a very strong and dedicated faculty, who are committed to their students and offer a high quality academic program, and students who want and value these programs. Our students take their education very seriously. They have a desire to not only earn credentials for their professional lives, but they possess a clear sense that they have a responsibility to use their educations to make a difference in the world…a difference in the lives of others.

What do you see as the university’s role in making sure these students can achieve what they want to do in the world?

I see it as a matter of nurturing, not instilling. Our students tend to come to us with a strong social justice ethic. What we do as faculty and staff is to help them advance their already captured demand to make an impact in the world.

In broad strokes, can you talk about the Academic Strategic Action Plan?

One of the most important aspects of the plan, to me, is that it really does build on the good planning work that had been done by faculty, staff and students prior to my arrival. The task force reports on the university’s strategic initiatives, the white papers, the hours of meetings that took place before I got here—all of this was utilized, in part, to develop the action plan. What’s most exciting to me about the draft is that it offers a blue-print for how we can systematically advance academic excellence and promote student learning at the university and support the professional development of our faculty and staff.  

What’s the next step for the action plan?

I’ve just completed a series of meetings of presenting the plan to the faculty and staff of the colleges, schools and library and to others at two open fora. In November I will report back to President Sundborg and the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees on the reaction of the university community to the draft. My hope is the Board will have a positive reaction and give us the nod to fully implement the plan.

As you’ve visited with people on campus about the plan, what sort of responses have you received?

The tone and tenor of these meetings has been great. I’ve been asked some very pointed questions about the plan, and there will indeed be some challenges as we move forward to implement it, but I’ve found the reaction to be very positive. Several faculty and staff members have made comments like, “Get on with it” or “Move it along.”

Looking more immediately at the current year, what will be some main areas of focus?

With the assumption that we will move forward with the Academic Strategic Action Plan, one of the most exciting steps we will take will be to initiate a process to develop a new university core curriculum. This undertaking will be faculty-driven, collaborative, and open to the broad university community. We’ll also begin to build more infrastructure to support the artistic, research and scholarly activities of our faculty, and assess all campus academic spaces used for instruction, laboratory, office, studio exhibition, etc., to determine its adequacy, appropriateness and efficiency of use.  And, of course, we will prepare for our site visit this spring for our accreditation.

Now that you’ve been here for more than a year, what do you like about Seattle, particularly in comparison to Chicago?

I’m really enjoying being here. I have been particularly struck by the beauty of the city of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. On those days when the sun’s actually out, it’s stunning. I remain very fond of Chicago, but Seattle is now my home. I find the people here to be very friendly, affable and polite. People will hold a door for you here, or if you’re driving in the left lane and you need to make a right turn and you engage your turn signal, the car behind you slows down and lets you merge. Those things rarely happened in Chicago—at least not for me. The civility of this city is a joy. I’m enjoying that part of being here very much.

At Convocation, you talked about how you’ve learned to distinguish between some of the nuances of the weather systems here (e.g. partly cloudy vs. partly sunny; rain vs. showers). Looking out the window, how would you characterize the weather we’re having today?

I’d say that we’re having showers this morning. I think of showers as more of a light drizzle and rain as a steady downpour.