Bud Peterson talks to The Campus Press about his goals
The Campus Press recently sat down with CU’s newly-appointed chancellor, George “Bud” Peterson. Here’s what he had to say about his new job, his goals and some of the most pressing issues on campus today.
CP: You formerly served as a research scientist for NASA. How did you get from there to the chancellor of a university with over 25,000 students?
BP: Well, when I was a research scientist at NASA, I was given a lot of summer assignments at Texas A&M. I worked a lot with the mechanical engineering department and eventually they asked me to coordinate the program. Soon, I became the department head, which seemed to go okay. Then one thing led to another, and I eventually held a position in the dean’s office. From there I went over to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, served as provost, and was really able to work outside engineering and science for the first time, which was really valuable.
Once this opportunity opened up, I was really excited because this is a great time to be at the University of Colorado. Becoming the chancellor of a university was not something I ever really set out to do, but I really enjoy the challenges and the opportunities that come with the job. With the opening of new buildings and programs, there are a lot of really positive things going on in this world.
CP: Hank Brown said of you, “one of the most remarkable human beings I think I’ve ever come across.” How high are the expectations for you entering this job?
BP: Obviously, with that said, the expectations are very high for me here. If you ask ten different people what they think the chancellor should be doing, you’ll get ten different answers. That’s one of the things that makes this job such a challenge, the job description is so broad and you have to try to satisfy everyone. Fortunately there are a lot of really great people around me, and that makes a huge difference.
CP: CU has suffered from a rash of scandals over the past decade entailing everything from the football sex scandal to the alcohol-related deaths of students on campus. How much of this resulted from a campus culture versus individual actions?
BP: Well, I wasn’t here at the time, but we’re currently trying to change the culture. We want to have a culture that welcomes diversity and where students feel welcome as scholars.
We really want to challenge students as well. I really want students to stop and ask themselves, ‘what do I want to accomplish here?’ I think if we can get students to do that, they’ll achieve a lot more. I really don’t have a magic bullet, but if we can create a community with respect, we’ll go a long ways.
CP: Diversity has been a major issue on campus in recent years. What, in your opinion, makes a campus diverse?
BP: To me, there are four kinds of diversity. Most people just think of ethnic and gender diversity, but I really think intellectual and geographical diversity are just as important. I would really like to see an environment where all viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.
CP: Where are we, as a university, lacking?
BP: We are a national, comprehensive university. We are the flagship university of Colorado. We exist to provide a quality education to everyone, and that word ‘comprehensive’ means we have to have a really diverse set of viewpoints.
I was doing an interview earlier this summer and the guy told me: ‘Diversity is a big problem around here, what are you going to do about it?’ Well, I got up, stuck my head out the door into the newsroom and said, ‘I don’t really think it’s an isolated problem.’
The point is, this isn’t just a campus problem, and it’s not just a community problem. It’s bigger than that. We have to create a welcoming community and a welcoming environment for diverse students.
CP: What is the best way to handle this problem?
BP: At RPI we were able to double the number of minority faculty members and increase the number of female faculty members by nearly 40 percent. Gender gaps were a huge issue when I got there.
The first step is to diversify the faculty, which will help us to attract an even more diverse student body and form a more welcoming environment. If (a female student) comes here, she’s going to want to see others like her. That’s how we start improving the environment.
CP: What is the most important thing the administration needs to accomplish to call the upcoming year a success?
BP: The university has tremendous momentum right now, and we have to keep building on that momentum. My three key points are to reaffirm our flagship status, put the focus on the people of the university and undertake a strategic planning process where we can develop a shared vision and clearly articulate it to everyone.