After 26 years with the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), Kenneth G. Furton assumed his new role with FIU July 1 as provost and executive vice president. While serving as CAS dean, Furton led the growth of the college to its current state serving more than 25,000 students, including 4,000 of whom graduate each year. This growth was driven by an annual budget of more than $150 million and the contributions of hundreds of faculty and staff. Under his leadership, the college was reorganized into three mission-based interdisciplinary schools: School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) and the School of Integrated Science and Humanity (SISH). In addition, Furton raised more than $40 million in philanthropic gifts and oversaw an increase in research grants from $27 million to $60 million annually.
But the classically trained forensic chemist is experiencing one role for the first time – that of college parent to his twins, Robert and Courtney, who are sophomores at FIU. It’s a role he shares with his wife Debby. FIU News had the opportunity to sit down with the provost and ask about both of his exciting new roles with the university.
1. Many parents may not know what a university provost does. How would you explain the role?
The provost is the chief academic officer of the university and responsible for the oversight of FIU’s curricular, instructional and research affairs – which essentially means I oversee the way we create, disseminate and certify knowledge. As the second-ranking administrative officer and chief operating officer, the provost supervises all of the deans, the museum directors and many of the vice presidents, and is the backup to the president when he is not available.
2. What are your goals as provost?
My primary goal as provost is to lead the development and implementation of FIU’s next strategic plan spanning from 2015-2020. Our next strategic plan will focus on four main areas. First, we will continue to implement programs that help ensure that FIU students are successful. Second, we will identify and invest in FIU’s preeminent programs, which are those programs that have national and international prominence and provide unique research and educational opportunities for our students. Third, we will continue to expand the research opportunities at FIU which allow our students to not only learn about knowledge but also create new knowledge. Finally, we will identify ways to become more efficient and leverage opportunities to bring in additional revenue in order to fund these new initiatives for our students.
3. As a parent of FIU students, what’s your advice to other parents to best support their student?
Keep in regular contact with your children, particularly in the first weeks of school. The earlier you can identify any issues, the more time there will be to correct them. Every student will have challenges along the way, but we do not admit any students who we do not believe can be successful at FIU. We are committed to doing whatever we can to help your children graduate and have successful careers.
4. What’s the hardest part of being a parent to college students?
The hardest part is letting your children go, getting comfortable with not knowing what they are doing much of the time and knowing that you cannot always protect them. In the early years through high school, many of us kept close tabs on what our kids were doing and who they were with. In college, our children become adults and it is sometimes hard to let go, but we have to trust that they will make good decisions. I’m lucky because both of my kids are at FIU, a place where I have been for 26 years. They practically grew up here alongside me. So I know they are being educated by some of the greatest minds in the world and supported by thousands of FIU staff who want to see every student succeed. Plus – I’m always on campus and know the people who set their schedules, so theoretically I can just surprise them one day (laughs).
5. What makes you proud to be a Panther Parent?
I have spent my entire academic career at FIU coming here after a postdoctoral position at Swansea University in the UK and now in my 26th year as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and now as provost. I could not be prouder that both of my children chose to attend our FIU. Granted, they came here because it’s where their friends were going – but I still love that they are here. FIU is one of the best universities in the world and is redefining the role of a research university in the community. I’m extremely excited that my children and I will help continue to make FIU even better.