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Rodney Hanley, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., discusses his background during a public forum Tuesday in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University, Normal.

NORMAL — Diversity and inclusion along with college affordability are among the key issues facing higher education, a finalist for vice president of academic affairs and provost at Illinois State University said at a public forum Tuesday.

Rodney Hanley, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., is the third of four finalists to visit campus.

“Lots of institutions talk about diversity and inclusion,” but don't do a lot about it, Hanley said in the Old Main Room at the Bone Student Center event.

“It could be the most important issue facing higher education today,” he said.

Referring to a definition a colleague used, Hanley said diversity is about the numbers, but “inclusion is about making the numbers count.”

He said students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds sometimes fall victim to “impostor syndrome” and a feeling they don't belong, even though they are getting good grades.

Fisk has developed a program “designed to break down those nagging insecurities that plague students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Hanley, adding that participants in the program had higher graduation rates than the overall student body.

Hanley said universities “need to do what we can to make college education as affordable as possible.”

At Fisk, he is looking into a modified version of the work-colleges model, where students work at jobs to offset part of their tuition. The classic model involves on-campus jobs, but Fisk is looking into partnering with companies in Nashville.

He cited six factors involved in academic excellence: global interdependence, student transformation, teaching, fiscal sustainability, community partnerships and institutional effectiveness.

To address declining enrollments and changing demographics, universities need to expand beyond the traditional 18- to 24-year-old age group, said Hanley.

“The largest pool of potential students is adult learners,” he said.

To reach them, said Hanley, institutions need to consider whether they have programs that interest adult learners.

At opposite ends of the spectrum, high school students involved in dual enrollment classes and retirees also are potential sources of students, he said.

Speaking about his management style, Hanley said, “I'm very much a think-out-loud provost. I like to brainstorm.”

He also said, “Humility from the leader gets you a long way” and should be coupled with empowerment: letting talented people around you do their jobs.

Hanley is a native of Decatur, where his parents still live. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees at Eastern Illinois University and has a doctorate in biology from the University of Kansas.

He is seeking to fill the vacancy created when Janet Krejci left ISU at the end of 2016. Jan Murphy has served on an interim basis since January 2017.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota


Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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