After six month in office, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Lawrence Potter – who previously worked at universities in the South, the Northeast and the Midwest – said the University of La Verne is, refreshingly, unlike any other place he’s worked.
Potter, who graduated magna cum laude from Stillman College and earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri, brings nearly 20 years of administrative experience to his new post. He served previously at Jackson State University in Mississippi, Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Western Michigan University and the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
ULV, as a Hispanic Serving Institution, is unlike any other University he has experienced, he said. And it’s so far been a pleasant surprise, due in part to the engagement of first-generation students, he said.
As a champion for diversity, Potter has developed numerous academic and student-centered diversity programs in his previous positions, as well as programs with a mission similar to the La Verne Experience.
In an interview last week with the Campus Times, Potter discussed some of his first impressions, biggest surprises, and some goals and challenges for the College.
What was your first impression of ULV?
When I got here in August I began to look around to get a sense of institutional culture. Part of learning about culture is studying nonverbals. You have conversations with people but also look at the types of art, look at the types of programs and practices more closely, I looked at much of that during the interview.
My first impressions were that it was a very hospitable community, people were very warm, and that people were ready for change. Good change, because not all change is good.
When I think about La Verne, I think about its hospitality and I think that is synonymous with Southern California. It is a very hospitable region in the country.
I think that the good change I am seeing with leadership and faculty is that they are being engaged with students and the staff is being supportive of those changes. It makes for a very harmonious institutional environment.
What plans do you have for the University and what actions have you taken so far to implement them?
Part of my plans are fairly simple. The first six months I wanted to spend time looking, listening and learning and I think that’s important for anyone coming to a university from the outside. Based on what I hear, based on what I see and based on what I learn, it is really important to be a strategic partner. One of the things that I’ve been working with department chairs in Arts and Sciences has been on organizational and operational excellence.
I think that we do things fine, but there is great room for improvement. Part of what I’ve been trying to do is align our college values, strategies, goals and objectives with those goals and objectives of the broader university “strategic 2020 vision.” Part of that has to do with setting policy, making sure there are fair guidelines and fair practices, making sure that all of the goals and objectives are aligned with the University, such that there can be accountability and funding.
Planning is very important and I think that one of the things that I’ve been very good at thus far is having the big picture conversation with the leadership and figuring out how we get there together.
What is the most pleasant surprise you have encountered so far?
I think one of the most pleasant surprises has been the level of engagement. Many of our students come from first-generation families and what surprises me about the students is that they are not afraid to ask questions.
The students fully understand that they are not just getting an education for themselves, but that earning an education or degree from the University of La Verne will help transform, in many of their cases, their families. That to me has been a welcomed surprise.
I think that many of the students I have encountered reflect our institutional mission and to see that mission played out in how we support and how we educate and how we plan around students has been really really rewarding, it really has been.
What has been your greatest challenge here?
All institutions have challenges, and I think change is inevitable. For anyone coming in from the outside of an organization who has experience, one of the immediate challenges they face is to learn institutional culture.
While I am prepared for challenge, I think that one of the greatest opportunities is recognizing the role the University has to play in the region and part of being the player in the region means we have to be prepared for change.
Sometimes change is swift, sometimes it is more predicted. I would say the greatest challenge and opportunity has been getting people to understand the importance of change in the 21st century.
What is your biggest accomplishment as dean?
I think it is too early to say what is a biggest accomplishment. I am still learning the community, and I also think that part of what I’ve been able to accomplish is to begin to build bridges and partnerships with both the curricular and co-curricular areas of the University.
We are all in this together. This is about moving the University forward, so what I think I am most proud of at this juncture in my tenure at the University is getting to build bridges and partnerships.
How is ULV different from other universities where you have worked?
I think ULV is different from other universities in that I have worked for predominantly white institutions and historically black colleges.
Given that University of La Verne is a predominately Hispanic institution, that is one way that it differs.
The second way in which the University is different is that it was founded by the Church of Brethren, this is important because it shows that La Verne recognizes its historic mission and leverages the relationship to keep the partnership fluid.
What are your top priorities for improvement?
My first priority is creating systems for efficiency in organizational effectiveness. It is very clear to me that if organizations are to be sustained they have to have effective policies and effective processes.
Creating systems in that way it is not about a dean or a person, it is about the organization as a whole being successful.
The second priority is creating opportunity where student and faculty can be successful through initiatives, faculty support or co-curricular support. Creating support for student and faculty success is pivotal.
There are a number of good things happening here, but I would like to move from good to great and that requires hard work and introspection.
Brooke Grasso can be reached at email@example.com.