Vorst to return as Economics professor; Associate Dean Wayne Vaught to step in as interim
On April 18, Karen Vorst announced her resignation as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), effective June 30.
The resignation, announced to a group of A&S faculty chairs, came after more than five years as dean.
Vorst said she first considered the idea in late March this year, and has stated there are both personal and professional reasons for her resignation.
“These decisions don’t happen lightly,” Vorst said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and you’re done. You come to a point when there are new perspectives, new visions. We had a good vision, and we had things working. There are a whole host of things that come into this kind of consideration.”
There has been speculation as to reasons for Vorst’s resignation, including pressure from Provost Gail Hackett.
In Issue 30 of U-News, Political Science Department Chair Dr. Harris Mirkin, a member of the U-News Board of Publishers, said he thought the decision may have been influenced by someone other than Vorst.
“She [Vorst] said that the time had come to go, but I wouldn’t say that this was initiated by the dean,” Mirkin said. “I don’t know if there was a big fuss or what, but I think that she was shoved. That would be my guess.”
Mirkin said Vorst and Hackett didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
“I think Karen’s style and Gail Hackett’s style were different,” Mirkin said. “Karen tends to be communal and her decision-making, and Gail is more hierarchical.”
Specifically, Mirkin noted conflict over the college’s budget and enrollment.
“There were areas of conflict about the new budget model and the amounts of money that would come out,” Mirkin said. “I don’t know if the provost thought the college was doing enough to grow enrollment.”
When asked about Hackett, Vorst denied being pressured to resign.
“This is a decision that the provost and I came to,” Vorst said. “We had an agreement about my resigning. There are always going to be some issues out there in which people differ.”
Vorst said there wasn’t any conflict over the budget or enrollment to lead to the decision to resign.
In Issue 30, History Department Chair Dr. Gary Ebersole noted that five years is about the average length of a dean’s tenure nationally.
Vorst said she wasn’t sure of an average tenure, but was aware of deans who have served for much longer lengths than she.
“It takes a while to really get going in a position like this,” Vorst said. “The college is very complicated; it’s the biggest unit on campus with the most diverse group of academic units, departments and faculty.”
Vorst added some have speculated her resignation was due to low faculty approval, although this is not the case. Results from the 2011 faculty senate surveys found 78 percent of A&S faculty wanted Vorst retained.
Among other things, Vorst said she has worked to bring the A&S faculty chairs together.
“In any organization, you’re going to have conflicting arguments and disagreements,” Vorst said. “My management style has been very open, transparent, inclusive. We’ve assembled a really good set of chairs who are eager to lead. They’ve just been a real joy to work with.”
With sharp budget cuts at the state level, managing A&S has not been an easy task.
“We’re all sort of scrambling, because the budget’s been cut by the state, and we’re trying to figure out how to weather that storm,” Vorst said. “We need to get more students in here and provide the best quality education possible, and I think we’ve been able to do that. Attracting students hasn’t been an overwhelming issue.”
Vorst has also been an aggressive fundraiser. Under her leadership, nearly $3 million has been raised for A&S through donations since 2008, endowing funding for 177 scholarships.
Vorst also saw a $5 million increase in automatic scholarship waivers for incoming students based on ACT results and class rank.
Vorst said she is both proud and humbled by the accomplishments of A&S faculty.
“I’ve had such an extraordinary time in this office,” Vorst said. “What students may not know is that we have award winning faculty. This year alone since January, we’ve had five faculty win national fellowships and awards.”
This includes two prestigious Guggenheim fellowships.
Vorst said it was rare for a publically-funded institution to receive even one Guggenheim fellowship.
After June 30, Vorst will take a year off before returning to the classroom as an economics teacher.
Upon her return, Vorst plans to develop a course on the Kansas City economy.
“It really fits on with our urban mission, and it’s one of those things I helped develop 10 years ago,” Vorst said. “I think we need to move that back to a front burner.”
On May 9, an email from Provost Gail Hackett announced the appointment of Associate A&S Dean Wayne Vaught as Interim Dean.
Vaught, who teaches philosophy alongside his position as associate dean, said he was contacted by the provost shortly after Vorst announced her resignation.
“The provost met with all the associate deans and all the chairs in the department and college and asked for information on potential candidates for the position,” Vaught said.
Vaught will assume the position of Interim Dean July 1, and said he will work to continue the vision established for A&S.
“I think it’s a critical time for the college,” Vaught said. “There are a lot of initiatives going on. I’ve worked closely with the current dean on a lot of those as they’ve pertained to undergraduate education, and I believe I will be able to effectively serve that role. Overall, I think that the college has been moving in a very positive direction.”
Aside from business as usual, Vaught said he will oversee the creation of an honor’s college and revision of general education requirements.
Vaught praised Vorst’s work as dean.
“I think the current dean has established a pretty strong group of associate deans and there is a very committed faculty,” Vaught said. “Together, we will work through this transition phase to make this as seamless a process as possible.”
Vorst was also enthused about Vaught’s selection as Interim Dean.
“Wayne has been in this office as Associate Dean for two years,” Vorst said. “He has experience as department chair, and this year will be promoted to full professor. He’s an excellent choice.”
Vaught said a search committee is being organized to find a permanent dean, and that he expects an earnest search next fall. The search, he said, will be national, although he isn’t aware of other specifics.
Hackett could not be reached for comment in time for this article.