Our first interview with interim president Dr. Jean Bartels

Interview Whitt Van Tassell

GA: When did you first learn you were chosen as interim?

Bartels: I received a phone call from the chancellor late last week.

GA: How long will you serve for?

Bartels: You know what, undetermined at this point, the chancellor and I are still talking about that and I’m just not sure exactly yet what the length of the interim position will be.

GA: Would you want to be appointed as the president?

Bartels: You know, right now my position is that I really will be willing to serve in this capacity for as long as the university and the system, Board of Regents, requests me to do so. I have made no plans beyond that; right now I’m just very honored and pleased to serve in the capacity of the interim president.

GA: Even though it is the interim position, you are the first woman to hold the president title in Georgia Southern history. Do you think this says something about women rising to lead the way in education?

Bartels: First off, I think that’s one of the most exciting parts of taking on the position is being able to be the first woman to actually hold the presidency at Georgia Southern. I think women have made contributions in higher education for a long, long time, and have come forward with wonderful decisions, wonderful activities, wonderful contributions to higher education. Certainly, it speaks well I think to the increased diversity we’re experiencing in all of higher education and the opportunity for any individual to serve is really a privilege.  So I think that part is particularly exciting. It is kinda fun to have the title as the first woman to hold the position here at Georgia Southern.

GA: In a statement you said “I have a strong allegiance and dedication to this University and will be proud to continue with the momentum of success we are experiencing at Georgia Southern. There will be no standing still.”  Will you be working to create new things or to keep the status quo until a permanent president is found?

Bartels: President Keel set a wonderful direction for the institution, but it’s really based on the values and the things that are important to Georgia Southern and always have been. I certainly will make sure that those things continue to move forward, but I’ll certainly also be listening for what kinds of things or new opportunities for us to look at. Again, Georgia Southern has a strong tradition of really being responsive and really supportive of students and what students need for them to have the best educational experience and the best opportunities for their future careers. I want to make sure that everything is done that maintains that and makes it even better for students. That’s the primary focus. So I’ll be certainly maintaining the things that are working very successfully and with an open ear to what kinds of things might we consider to expand, include, or even change if that needs to be.

GA: President Keel has frequently been praised for the way in which he has used athletics to put Georgia Southern on a national stage. He frequently says it’s a front-porch mentality that if people can get on your front porch, they can look in the windows at other great things like academics. Do you agree with this way of thinking or would you have something else in mind?

Bartels: Well, I think athletics is certainly a very vital part of Georgia Southern’s history and the activities that students and everyone enjoys in the community and beyond enjoys seeing about Georgia Southern. We have many open windows for the institution for people to get a look at us. You start, I think, with really extraordinarily strong academic programs and really world-class faculty and great administrators that also are attractive for people to look at because it’s the important thing that we do here at the university. That said, I think athletics is extremely important too. I certainly am an athletic supporter, and this is a cute aside for you, but I’m actually a, what I call a minority owner of the Green Bay Packers. I was a Wisconsin girl by my background and I grew up about 30 miles away from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I learned about the Green Bay Packers from the time I was a child and right now I own one stock in the Green Bay Packers. So that gives you an indication that I still think athletics is pretty darn important and pretty exciting to be a part of. So, athletics will certainly be something that continues to be a front porch opportunity for the institution, loved by so many, and really will be supported as well, but I want to make sure that we also keep athletics in perspective of the other great things that are happening at the university as well too. 

GA: As interim, what will your main duties be?

Bartels: Well, my main responsibility is to take on the full expectations and responsibilities of the presidency for the institution in this period of time, until such time as we transition to a new permanent president. So I’ll be maintaining and doing all the things that President Keel did, that any president is required to do, in terms of overseeing any aspect of the institution, in ensuring that we’re moving forward, progressing well, and doing the things that we need to do make this continue to be a good place.

GA: What are some similarities and differences in the job of provost and president?

Bartels: In my role as the Provost, I’m the first in command, if you will, of all the academics of the institution, so my oversight was for the majority of what happens at the institution, if you think about the fact that all the colleges reported to me and I was responsible for all the curriculum and program development of the entire institution on the academic side of the house. What’s different is that I will have more opportunity to look at the other aspects of the instuition that weren’t my charge; what is happening with student activities, student enrollment, and working with the Vice President for that particular area, working with the business and finance area to look at what’s happening with physical plant and finances of the institution, and what we’re doing in terms of university advancement. So some of those things will be newer responsibilities, even though as part of the president’s cabinet, in my role as provost, I’ve had the opportunity to see much of what was happening with that as well, in the past.

GA: During the nursing student tragedy, you were a speaker at the vigil and reminded the community that you were a nurse and had served as chair of the school of nursing. Did that situation prepare or shape you at all for how to handle a tragedy in the future as president?

Bartles: My background is a nurse, that’s how I started my entire career, and my career took me into practice in critical care areas for most of my practice, so dealing with and responding to very difficult situations is something I feel like I’ve done for a long time. Every situation is new, and every situation is extraordinarily painful, and gives you more insight into what kinds of things people need and how you support them when they’re faced with difficult moments in their lives. So it was a very tragic and horrible situation, touched all of us deeply, and from it I learned the things I do have done as a nurse are going to always be an important part of how I respond to any situation like that. Support people, help them to cope with the situation, and try to find a brighter future for them to perceive into.

GA: Will you keep an open door policy as president for students or faculty to speak with you about any problems they may have?

Bartels: And I’ll answer that quickly: Absolutely. The way I managed my provost position is the same way,  I believe very much in transparency and also in listening to what people have to say. I learn more from having those conversations often times than any other way I can get information. So I definitely will be looking for input and ideas and thoughts that students might have, that faculty might have, that anyone associated with the institution might have, internal to us or external in the community. So absolutely.

You aren’t going to ask me about Twitter and selfies? (laughs)

GA: Would you like to speak to Twitter and selfies?

Bartels: I’m in the process of working to find out a better way… to increase my ability to Twitter better than I do and to continue that tradition which I think is kind of fun. And there’ll be an occasional selfie, I’m sure. (Laughs)