An interview with FSU’s Interim President Robert Martin
By Michael B. Murphy
[Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Martin was selected to be FSU’s interim president this past July. He served as FSU’s vice president for academic affairs from 2004 until he retired in 2010. Despite his retirement, Martin remained at FSU as a part-time professor for the psychology and philosophy department]
How did you react to the offer of being interim president?
I said, “Let me think about it,” and I talked to my wife and thought about it for about a week. I decided pretty quickly, “Yes,” if they were interested in me, then I’d be interested in taking on the position.
So it doesn’t sound like it was a difficult decision to make.
It was, in some respects, a relatively easy decision to make because of my affection for [FSU]. I believed I was coming into a good situation, not a bad situation. Sometimes, when interim presidents come into a situation, it’s because there’s been difficulties and someone’s been sent packing. That wasn’t the case here. Financially, the institution is very strong. Enrollment had increased significantly in the past two years and new programs were being developed. I think one advantage that I brought to the Trustees was that I knew the institution, so the learning curve would not be very steep or take a long time. [Another] reason that it was easy is that I like the people with whom I’ve worked. So I thought it would be a privilege. The last reason was, I had just convinced myself, “It’s just a year.” Or likely just a year (laughs).
Did you have any involvement in the Presidential Search Committee?
None. Nor would I have wanted to. When the University – I guess it was the trustees – hired a search firm to work with the search committee, I had the opportunity to talk with the two consultants from the search frm who worked with the University. They wanted to talk to me mostly about how did I see the college – where is the college now? What are the challenges that the college is going to be facing in the next couple of years? They talked to a whole lot of people in addition to me.
When you took on the interim presidency, did you have a guideline to follow in terms of what
needed to be accomplished?
The college had – under President Flanagan – a very good strategic plan in process. It’s kind of like a roadmap, you know? It says this is what we’re going to be doing and it lays out some objectives. It’s kind of like a map to follow. I’m only here a year, so the goals need to be pretty circumscribed and defined.
What were some of the agendas you had presented to you as interim president? Are NEASC and FSU’s 175th anniversary at the top of the list?
Those are the biggies. We also have our teacher preparation programs being accredited by an organization called The National Council for the Accreditation for Teacher Education [NCATE]. That’s a biggie, too ... not just to our Education department, but most of our departments are involved in teacher training because when we were founded, that’s what we did – teacher education. So we have two big accreditation visits – one institutional, NEASC; one programmatic, that’s NCATE.
We are also starting our 175th anniversary celebration, so it’s important to create some visibility and some program behind that. We are also in ... technically what you would call “the quiet phase” of a comprehensive campaign where we are trying to raise money. So it was important to try to keep those efforts moving forward. Those were the major challenges – and those were expressed to me by the Trustees.
Have you had any personal goals you wanted to achieve during your time as interim president?
My own personal goals involved wanting to enhance the engagement of faculty and staff in the University to help people feel a sense of ownership. ... It’s not just that they work here, but they have a role here and can make the University something. I also wanted to do something about ... retention and graduation rates. I wanted to improve that.
Have you had the opportunity to meet Dr. F. Javier Cevallos?
I’ve actually met him on a couple of occasions. When each of the three final candidates came to campus, I had time with each of them. So I met Dr. Cevallos while he was a candidate. I also had the chance to connect with him a couple of weeks ago in San Diego when we were both at the same conference. We had the chance to chat there. I will tell you, quite serendipitously, President Flanagan was there as well, representing Illinois State University.
What advice would you give Dr. Cevallos when he becomes president in July?
My hunch is that one of the appeals of Dr. Cevallos is that he has already been a president for 12 years. So in many respects, I think he could be giving me advice rather than the other way around. Anyone who comes in with the expectation, that hope, of leading an institution, needs to understand and appreciate the institution. So Dr. Cevallos at this point knows a lot about the institution – certainly at a factual level, a programmatic level, and maybe even on an organizational level. I think he will, and should, spend time getting “the feel” of the place. Understanding what the culture is – what do people value? I think he will try to be very observant. I think he will spend a lot of time internally getting to know people on the campus. I am sure, because it is an increasingly important role of college presidents, that he’ll spend a lot of time getting to know people off campus – legislators, business leaders, community
leaders and the like.
Have you decided on how you will be spending your free time after your interim presidency has concluded?
Only the most general of ideas at this point. I expect that my wife and I will do some significant
traveling. One of things that I want to do is just get in the car and drive across country – I have a daughter up in Seattle – and just to take my time driving. I’m also looking forward to getting overseas ... and doing a biking tour or a hiking tour. I expect that after half a year is up, I’ll be back here teaching.