David Rafael Gonzalez
Kerop Janoyan, provost and vice president of academic affairs, started the position remotely from his New York home, on April 1.
Janoyan previously worked at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, as dean of the graduate school, but has held many positions in his 20 year experience at Clarkson. He was an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, executive officer of the civil and environmental engineering department, interim dean of the Lewis School of Health Sciences and director of distance learning.
Janoyan received his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles.
He moved back to California this summer and has been on campus since the start of the semester.
Some of his previous research includes bridge health monitoring and sustainable infrastructure and systems.
Janoyan said his goal at La Verne is to find ways to serve and support all students, faculty and staff to make a greater impact. He elaborated on his priorities and approaches in an interview with Campus Times Editor-in-Chief David Gonzalez via Zoom. (This interview has been edited for length.)
David Gonzalez: Why did you choose to accept this position at La Verne?
Kerop Janoyan: La Verne is one of the few places that really resonated with the stuff that I’ve been involved in. I didn’t really realize how much social mobility plays as a central role, whether it’s planned or not planned, but the University looked like a place that’s truly changing people’s trajectory in life and not just by accident, but it’s central to the mission. Again, whether it’s intentional or not, it’s more special that it’s happening authentically, and that’s a place I thought where I could make an impact and a place that I feel at home. That’s what was more apparent when I had my first interview with the search committee. I remember telling my wife afterwards that “hey that’s already a place I feel like I belong.”
DG: What are your main priorities now that you’ve had a few months in the position?
KJ: Some of the major things that we talked about initially is really how to best serve all students: Traditional, nontraditional, graduate, undergraduate, at the La Verne campus, across all other campuses, and how we could really reach all students in all aspects. And one of the biggest things of course is, the guiding principles is to focus on student success again across all student groups and to do that you have to really be supporting the faculty and staff to grow the curricular and co-curricular, extracurricular activities. To really best serve the students and faculty and staff, we really need to work together to identify, nurture and invest in these high-impact activities, whether it’s the programs or other activities that are just as impactful to students.
DG: What do you think the strengths of the University are?
KJ: I think it’s multifold. The main strengths are undoubtedly the people. So the people, it’s not what the campus is, it’s the people that are involved. It’s a very small community where you can make a difference. The people are very dedicated to the University and to the University’s mission. It’s one of those things where even with the challenges we can get together and discuss how to move forward. I think that’s one of the biggest strengths I’ve noticed.
Again I started April 1, so the students were all away, having now a few weeks under our belt with classes, it’s basically the students and their true desire to be on campus and have the educational experience again and have the co-curricular, extracurricular experiences, makes me smile. I look out the window and I see the students and I see the students practicing. It makes me really happy to see everyone back and to have a sense of purpose in front of you instead of just on paper and emails.
DG: Are there any weaknesses and how would you address them?
KJ: I think the weaknesses are like anything else, we could always do better in certain areas. One of the challenges that higher education is undergoing a metamorphosis of a lot of changes happening, not just at La Verne but throughout higher education. I’m hoping that we see ourselves being small and nimble as an advantage, because change is going to happen and how do we actually leapfrog some of the issues and come to a better place compared to our peers. The challenge again is because our size is small, we’ve got some pretty big players out there and competition gets tough and they’re moving into our marketplace and neighborhoods. What I see as our weakness though I see as our strength too.
DG: How do you hope to address and remedy some of the issues regarding issues of faculty governance?
KJ: Since I started, the faculty governance has taken extra care to make sure that shared governance is front and center; not only to practice it but to make sure that everyone understands that we’re doing it. Sometimes you can practice shared governance but it doesn’t come across because it’s easy to misinterpret and misunderstand, especially during COVID when it’s over Zoom or email. It gets harder and harder but I think that’s why we have to be more intentional in communicating that you’re really including shared governance at the forefront of any decisions. One of the things that I think about going to Zoom is that it created a more democratic way of meeting because everyone can log in. So if there’s any silver lining with COVID is that it’s created these different communication mediums that may not have existed before.
The other thing is that the Faculty Senate and the leadership of the faculty assembly and both have been very gracious and very open door policy, and for me vice versa. So there’s already a lot of dialogue with not just the senate, but with every subcommittee. Another part of shared governance is with students, we’ve already been working with ASULV and any initiatives that we have, we’re making sure that we go through partnering with the students and partnering with the faculty and the staff.
DG: How would you address diversity issues, like retention rates of faculty who are people of color?
KJ: It’s going to be multi-pronged; it’s not going to change overnight. But the things we put in place have to be done overnight. Continuing education, especially for some of the pinch points. It’s important to not only hire appropriately but it’s also important to make sure everyone’s educated and have a sense of awareness. One of the missing things in all Universities is continuing education, not just for those who want to receive that education or have awareness, but particularly those faculty who are making decisions for their peers. For example the promotion and tenure committee, how do we make sure that committee is trained and aware of all the issues because we can train everyone across campus but it’s almost like a jury.
Again because we’re small, we’re not going to be able to hire 30 new faculty this year and have a huge impact, the number of faculty we hire each year is relatively small. So how do we impact this topic in a substantive way? One of them is to not just look for new hires, but actually support the people we already have. So I think one of the biggest things I’m making sure we do well right now is providing the support for the faculty that we have, and that includes celebrating, amplifying their voices and making sure they’re not marginalized in any way. It’s good to hire new faculty with that lens, but it’s also important that the people we do have are empowered to speak up and have a voice as well.
DG: What is your policy for communication with students, faculty and staff?
KJ: One of the things I’ve done more and more of is have more regular communication with the faculty and staff. We’re communicating through both channels. Student affairs is more with Juan Regalado, which has all the housing activities and everything else and then Academic Affairs is more on the classes, deans. So my communication has been predominantly with the faculty and staff and then the folks in the office are communicating in different ways. You see this in the COVID response to everything else in-between. There’s no such thing as too much communication, but if there is too much communication there’s a tendency of people not stopping to listen or to open emails. I think students have more email fatigue, but even faculty and staff have email fatigue, whether it’s an email from the provost on top of the dean on top of the department. I think it’ll be ineffective after a while.
DG: How can the University clear up any confusion the community may have regarding COVID-19 guidelines?
KJ: I have to say again it’s hard to put a pin in it because it’s an ever changing situation. A lot of the guidelines are always changing. All those small things that have made everything so fluid. It’s difficult to really understand and communicate in a fluid way. One of the things we’ve done is add a dashboard to communicate to the students, faculty and staff the caseload as well as we can be as transparent as we can. We do fall under L.A. County so those guidelines dictate what we do. The reality is that it’s never going to be easy to simplify the protocols because there are layers of requirements that differ for faculty staff and students. So even notifying people what’s required is not uniform across the university because of these different requirements we have. It’s a very challenging needle to thread because of all the computing requirements and all the computing agencies that are involved.
DG: What are the plans for the future of the College of Health?
KJ: So the college of health we’re moving forward full steam ahead. It involves a number of programs, a number of faculty and a number of students. It’s really one of the major transformative initiatives that we have at the university. It’s a huge transformational lift. We’re excited about it to make sure the students and communities are served well. A college of health is one the more transformative programs across all colleges period.
DG: Do you have any message to the University as a whole?
KJ: I’m very proud of being associated with the university of la Verne. I’m very proud of being at the University of La Verne and that’s mainly because I love the people here starting with students and of course the faculty and staff as well. I’m excited and I’m truly blessed to be part of the Leo family. It’s just the right place for me.
After I had applied and started with the interview process, my dad shared with me that he had applied to the University of La Verne in 1982 to emigrate to the US. He still had the letter of admission that he kept since 1982. That honestly speaks volumes that even back in 1982 that this was a school for him to change his life. We ended up coming in as refugees through the immigration process but he got admitted to the University of La Verne to come in as an international student with his family. So I guess I was destined to be here either way.
David Rafael Gonzalez can be reached at email@example.com.
David Rafael Gonzalez is a senior journalism major and LV Life editor of the Campus Times. He has been a three-time editor-in-chief and has also served as editorial director, LV Life editor and a staff writer.