As UC Irvine’s students were wrapping up the academic year in mid-June with final examinations in anticipation of the summer, things were just beginning for Howard Gillman, UC Irvine’s newly appointed Executive Vice President and Provost.
The search was spearheaded by a committee that included professors from multiple departments, the presidents of the undergraduate and graduate student governments of the school, vice chancellor, deans, directors and Chancellor Drake.
Formerly University of Southern California’s Dean for the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Gillman will now be working closely with UC Irvine’s chancellor in campus administration.
Though the summertime is, for many UCI students, a long-awaited and much needed time of relaxation and respite from course work, the last couple of months for Dr. Gillman, have been hectic, to say the least.
“It’s been an extraordinary summer — crazy busy, thrilling, a whirlwind. Every day I learn something new and exciting about this tremendous academic community,” Gillman said.
Gillman acclimated with meetings dawn-to-dusk with senior administration, the deans, the Academic Senate leadership, student leaders, the staff assembly leadership and many faculty members.
Gillman has been consistently proactive within his first three months as provost. But his self-starting has not come without the cost of being away from family.
“Even our dog initially barked at me after we hadn’t seen each other for a few weeks (she felt guilty after she realized what she did) — but we know that separation is a short-term thing.”
While the transition itself will fade with the approaching fall quarter, Gillman says the position will be an ongoing learning experience for him.
As the No.2 ranking position in campus administration is a jack of all trades job, Gillman has been organizing the initial priorities of a position entailing a wide breadth of responsibility.
Despite the swarm of duties and obligations, Gillman feels optimistic about where the university stands. In fact, when asked about what his greatest challenges for the coming years might be in his new position, Dr. Gillman replied,
“I’m not sure the phrase “greatest challenges” captures my frame of mind. I think the university is well-poised to accelerate our ascendency among globally preeminent research universities.”
“We have a very strong faculty, terrific students, a wonderful staff [and] enthusiastic supporters; we are also located in the one of the most beautiful, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking parts of the country. And so we have all the ingredients to attract outstanding new faculty and students — a new cohort of academic leaders.”
He ultimately views his role, as well as those of others, as a way to expand on what strides have already been made. He also plans to maintain and improve upon the standards of excellence that have already been established.
“Our task is to do justice to all of those who, over the last 50 years, made this the best young university in the country. That means mobilizing our highest ambitions and supporting the best ideas about how to make even stronger contributions.”
In the long term, Gillman sees the campus accelerating its ascendency among globally preeminent research universities. He wants to facilitate the creation of outstanding academic programs so that UC Irvine students are getting the best education possible.
Gillman believes that the best way to help students and faculty make a positive impact on the local and global communities is to create an environment in which we engage in important and outstanding research, scholarship, clinical and professional practices and artistic expression.
While Gillman’s goals may sound quite ambitious, his track record shows they are well within reach. As dean at USC, he helped raise $450 million for programs on campus.
“I view fundraising as a natural extension of my responsibility to advance our academic mission,” he said.
“As we set our sights ever higher — in terms of the impact we want to have on the lives of students, the contributions we want to make to the creation of new knowledge, the local and global challenges we want to address — we will find people of goodwill who want to help us achieve our lofty goals.”
Gillman’s accomplishments are not limited to acquiring funding for the university by securing donations. He was able to achieve much during his time at USC, even when caught in the midst of the global financial crisis, a time where budgetary challenges plagued institutions of higher learning all around. He recruited more than 100 new faculty and a dozen other program leaders and directors, enhancing the quality of Ph.D. programs and improving undergraduate graduation rates in light of conditions within the economy.
When asked about his plans to advance the academic mission of UCI in midst of today’s current economic climate, Gillman stressed the importance of having a relentless attitude.
“No matter the economic climate we always must be advancing the academic mission. If you’re not moving forward you will be left behind.”
Gillman believes UC Irvine will continue to do what it has done in the past: push heroically through by creating new programs, building new schools and recruiting new faculty.
He feels fortunate to be coming into the position at the time that he is looking much more positive. The state is on the rebound and the people of California have decided that our mission deserves support and we can be much more optimistic about the future.
Gillman has also intended to address the issue of advancing diversity on campus, particularly in light of recent events on campus occurring in the past year.
“Universities have a compelling interest to create diverse communities of inquiry. This is the essential precondition for thoughtful deliberation amidst a robust exchange of ideas,” he said.
Gillman believes that UC Irvine’s ADVANCE program, which ensures the access and inclusion of people of all backgrounds and life experiences, is central to upholding UCI’s fundamental scholarly and research mission.
Led by a team of graduate program mentors and faculty equity advisors, ADVANCE is committed to promoting an inclusive culture for faculty and graduate student excellence within each of the 11 schools on campus.
“We have to be relentless and ever vigilant about advancing these values,” Gillman said.
“UC Irvine’s respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun are values that represent the core of who we are, which is why we will continue to move forward,” Gillman said.
All in all, despite the long days, Gillman admits he is excited for what is to come, as his new job brings not only a new set of responsibilities but also a new set of colors,
“I feel very privileged that, after so many years, I’m finally able to unleash my inner Anteater. Zot Zot Zot!”