The first candidate for vice chancellor and provost at Montana State University-Northern said he thinks the position might be a good fit for him and his family, both on a personal and professional level. During an open forum at Northern’s Student Union Building Ballroom this morning, Peter Johnstone said he thinks both the community and the university exemplify what he is looking for — a friendly, quality community and a university with a close relationship between the students and the faculty and staff. “It’s extremely hard (at universities with 42,000 students) for those guys there to be in contact with the community of that institution,” Johnstone said. “But here, if you can’t make contact, you’re not a contact person. So I think the size matters enormously.” Johnstone is the first of two candidates scheduled to visit the campus to be interviewed for the provost position. Candidate Stephen Adkison will be on campus Wednesday and Thursday next week, with a public forum set for 7 a.m. next Wednesday. Provost Joe Callahan in January announced his retirement effective June 30. The provost is second-in-command at the university and works with faculty, staff and students in guiding the academic direction of the institution. Johnstone told the audience, primarily faculty, staff members and students at Northern about the road that brought him from London to apply for a position in Havre. After receiving his law degree from London Guildhall University, Johnstone entered the teaching world, ending as the chair of the School of Law at the University of Northampton in England. He said he and his wife, Christine, talked about coming across the ocean to institutions here, “and saying wouldn't it be wonderful to get a chance to work in the states.” Johnstone took a job teaching in the United States and in 2001 decided he wanted to stay here, he said. He taught at East Carolina University at a campus with about 1,500 students, where he became chair of the department of criminal justice and ended as associate dean for undergraduate programs. He then took a position at Pennsylvania State University, where he ended as deputy chanc e l l o r a t a c amp u s i n Philadelphia with about 4,000 students. He then made what he said was a mistake, taking a job with a newly independent campus of the University of North Texas in Dallas. That campus had just reached the size where its own administration was hired, rather than being administered through one of the larger campuses. Johnstone said after he found that he and the new campus and its chancellor were not a good fit and that he did not work well in the environment there, he decided to resign. “It just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right fit,” Johnstone said. He took a teaching position at another campus of UNT, and when he saw the position in Havre open, decided to apply, Johnstone said. Along with the appeal of a small campus, the size and character of Havre and the area also attracted him and his wife, he said. Although he and his wife are big-city people, he said — he is from London, she is from Paris — they find small communities attractive. When teaching in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Johnstone said, he lived in smaller towns, one about 40,000 and one about 4,000, rather than in the cities where he taught. The same was true when teaching at UNT, he said. He and his family lived in a small community south of Dallas, but he found the people there were not as friendly as he expected. He lived in a community of 40 houses, but no one talked to each other. Johnstone said he is looking for a quality location for his family. He and his wife started late, he said, adding that he will turn 55 next week, and he has a 10-year-old son. That is important in choosing his job, he said. “I want the opportunity to give him the quality of life that I expect; we’ve got good friends, good neighbors, we’ve got people we talk to,” Johnstone said. Johnstone also addressed some issues raised by the audience. He said the library plays a crucial role in the university system, although it is an evolving role with modern electronic media. He also said he believes technical programs play an important role — and will play an increasingly important role — in all parts of education. Having direct, practical applications to studies is a key to success in modern education, Johnstone said. He stressed that he also believes the liberal arts side of education must play an important element in all higher education. “I do think that’s part of what it means to be an educated person,” he said. In his work as a campus administrator, he said he has worked closely with student governments, both in a formal sense by bringing issues to the administration and faculty senates, and informally, with talks with students and student leaders on a variety of issues. Johnstone also talked about what he called a passion of his — bringing an international experience to education. He said he was involved in the creation of a program at his campus of Penn State that has been adopted by the entire system of that institution, which took a variety of faculty, staff members and students to study overseas. That could be a good fit for Northern, Johnstone said. He said he believes Northern embodies what he looks for in higher education, with smaller classes, close-knit relationships and excellent programs. “I actually believe that quality teaching for undergraduate programs is probably the most valuable thing that can take place," Johnstone said. "And small institutions have been handl ing that extremely well."
First provost candidate interviewed
Published: Thursday, March 25th, 2010
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