The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Potential provost visits campus, gives ideas

The first of three finalists in the search for SMU’s new provost met with a small group of students Thursday.

Thomas Peterson is currently the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona, and his trip to Dallas Thursday and Friday is to interview for the opening created by the unexpected departure of Robert Blocker last May after working at SMU for one year.

Peterson said he would focus on enhancing SMU’s academic profile by increasing the amount and types of research the university’s departments perform.

“What really amazed me is the lack of a large research intensive university in what is one of the biggest cities in the country,” Peterson said. “I see this as a golden opportunity to expand its research portfolio.”

Peterson said if he were selected as provost, he would work to enhance collaboration between different schools in research and classroom activities such as pairing engineers and performance majors together in order to put a scientific approach to things like theater set-building and to expose engineers to theater.

When the conversation turned to the relationship between academics and athletics, Peterson said it is important to him that student athletes graduate.

“I like the term student athlete. I like it to mean something. A university should not be 3A farm teams for the professionals,” Peterson said.

He added he liked that SMU’s athletes have a high graduation rate, because so many student athletes won’t have professional careers.

Peterson also said he realizes the role athletics can have in enhancing exposure of a university.

“There is a role athletics can play in the outreach to a community. Athletics can be a mouthpiece to a university, that’s a good thing,” Peterson said.

He also said the public relations aspect athletics brings to a university that inevitably helps the academic programs.

One of the first responsibilities the new provost will have is selecting a new dean for the Dedman College. Peterson said he’s glad the SMU administration delayed the dean search until the new provost is selected because it will help the university find the best candidate.

“You won’t hire the dean you want if they don’t know who they would directly report to,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the demand and need to raise funds for the University of Arizona are just as rigorous as they are for a private school. Peterson said his College of Engineering has a $60 million budget, but only about 30 percent of that comes from the state. The rest is from grants and philanthropic donations.

Peterson also said he sees many academic possibilities for the university if it wins the bid for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

“It would increase national visibility of the university – but it’s a two-edged sword,” Peterson said. “There are pros and cons, and there is a whole spectrum of opinion on its related benefit.”

He added SMU should be pursuing the library rather than “refuse to be considered because of political reasons.”

Peterson earned his bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in Massachusetts, his master’s from University of Arizona and his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology.

Peterson joined the University of Arizona in 1977 as an assistant professor in chemical engineering. His research focused on the environmental impact of atmospheric aerosols.

He has been in academic administration for 16 years, starting as the head of the chemical engineering department at the University of Arizona before becoming dean in 1998.

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