The first several months on the job for Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Kornbluh have included significant milestones for Wayne State University, including a phased return to pre-pandemic operations, the finalization and launch of the 2022-2027 strategic plan, the opening of the new WSU Fieldhouse and more. Kornbluh, who started at the university in July 2021, said that he’s already feeling at home on campus and continues to be impressed by the campus community’s commitment to its mission and its students.
“I’ve spent the last 25 years at public universities that have missions committed to making a difference in students’ lives and to conducting research that improves their communities. What’s struck me here is how deeply the faculty and staff believe in that mission, and the extra miles they’re willing to go in service of students and Detroit,” Kornbluh said. “It was one of my first impressions of Wayne State, and it’s only been further reinforced with time.”
To that end, some of Kornbluh’s favorite early experiences on campus have been visiting different departments and learning about research and having lunch with students and President Wilson at the Towers Café. A self-described scholar of democracy whose scholarship has focused on electoral politics and the internet’s role in flattening hierarchy and broadening participation and access to information, Kornbluh recognizes Wayne State’s strength in advancing knowledge and providing equitable access to higher education.
“We serve students from all walks of life, and they’re learning from faculty who are pushing the frontiers of knowledge,” he said. “They’re learning from chemists who will make the next big discovery, from artists who are about the take the industry by storm, and social workers who are innovating new ways to serve the community. Our world-class faculty are at the top of their fields, but they’re also committed to passing on their understanding of research as an opportunity for public good.”
He cited the diversity of Wayne State’s student population as another major strength and reinforced that working to improve diversity among faculty was a top priority.
“Our students really represent the future of a multiracial, multiethnic society that includes all religions and creeds. The rich diversity of our student population is exciting,” said Kornbluh. “While we have a significant number of African American students, we could be better serving them by ensuring our faculty reflects that same diversity.”
The provost believes faculty diversity and student success are deeply connected and has already taken action to make improvements. The new Pathway to Faculty program with the Graduate School, which will guide and prepare pre-faculty fellows for the acceptance of tenure-track positions, was announced in November 2021 to diversify the professoriate by granting early career scholars protected time to advance research or creative work that furthers diversity, equity and inclusion. Additionally, Kornbluh said the administration is working on a major cluster hire of faculty whose scholarship focuses on topics related to African American experiences.
Kornbluh said that doubling down on student success initiatives is another top goal, recognizing that although WSU has made great strides over the last five years to improve graduation rates and support services, the pandemic has made it a more difficult time to be a student. For that reason, proactive expansions to Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, and student organizations are in works.
“I want our work to continue not only on the same progressive trajectory, but also at the same rapid pace of improvement for all of our students,” Kornbluh said. “I believe the commitment and dedication of WSU’s faculty and staff, who have already proven themselves to be leaders in student success, will propel our university into the future as leaders in navigating these challenges.”
Another top priority for Kornbluh is to help guide WSU in sustainably adapting to the financial challenges facing higher education. The provost said he also hopes to leverage WSU’s vast intellectual capital and expand its market by diversifying programs and appealing to the needs of adult and returning students.
Wayne State’s relationship with Detroit and commitment to community engagement was a major part of what drew Kornbluh to the university, and he’s excited to be working and living in an urban environment. When he’s not working, Kornbluh enjoys getting to know Detroit’s restaurant and cultural scene with his wife, Miriam Behar, M.D., who has joined Wayne Pediatrics and is serving the needs of Detroit and taking care of the children of WSU’s faculty and staff.
The provost said that he’s looking forward to the opportunities ahead for Wayne State and is proud of the campus community’s work in his first months on the job.
“The pandemic has been really hard on faculty, staff and students all over the country, and I would put Wayne State on the top of the list of universities who put their people first and adapted well. It’s hard for an institution of this size and complexity to address such dramatic changes on short notice,” Kornbluh said. “We welcomed and accommodated different views, and the administration worked closely with faculty and staff to lead with compassion. I’m proud to be part of a community that approached these challenges as a joint effort and a learning opportunity.”