University of Wisconsin chancellor search finalist Nicholas Jones, the current dean of the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, is no stranger to UW or Badger sporting games.
Jones said he gained exposure to UW and its sports secondhand when he worked as the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Chair at the University of Illinois.
Sports aside, Jones said his work experience at both private and public institutions has taught him great lessons because he can compare and contrast the ways they operate.
He said the biggest challenge facing UW’s new leader in the next decade is figuring out how to sustain and grow its academic programs while continuing its educational missions with diminishing revenues.
“I spent quite a bit of time in fundraising, which I see as a good way to support a school’s educational mission,” Jones said of his experience as the Dean at Johns Hopkins. “I see great potential in working with the University of Wisconsin Foundation… they are a big possibility for Madison.”
While the expectations for UW to be a contributor to the state’s economy are very reasonable given the investments the university receives, the university is much more than a generator of jobs, according to Jones.
“It has a mission that transcends simply job creation and there are many more things that the institution does,” Jones said. “Certainly contributing economic vitality is important and should be a focus but other missions of the university are important as well.”
One of these missions is liberal arts education, Jones said.
Jones said he has been a big supporter of liberal arts education while working as a dean of at the Whiting School of Engineering. He said the best engineers are those who have a depth of technological education combined with the breadth of a liberal arts education.
But the liberal arts are important even in addition to the role they play in educating a competent workforce, Jones added.
“I think the liberal arts is a critical core of the university in their own right,” he said. “The mission of liberal arts education is critical to our society as a tool to continue to question and improve our understanding of ourselves, and that’s exactly the sort of things one should learn coming out of the university.”
In order to resonate with the wide range of cultures on campus, Jones said he plans to make the most he can out of existing structures. He also said he wants to collaborate with student government in its various forms and getting to know students as much as possible.
“I will get out constantly to talk with students,” Jones said. “I’m not the sort of person who likes to sits in an office all day.”
He hopes to engage students in more intimate settings like inviting a group of students for coffee, dinner, or perhaps ultimate frisbee.
Jones described his leadership style as collaborative, asking a lot of questions and listening to a lot of answers for those questions. He described himself as a believer of “teams.”
“My job is to trust, empower and support my team and my constituencies because for an institution like UW-Madison, you simply can’t manage such a large, complex organization in any way other than taking full advantage of all of the talents that exist there,” Jones said. “The notion that you are the boss and you rule from the top is kind of crazy.”
Jones came to the Unites States from his native New Zealand to earn his masters and doctoral degrees from the California Institute of Technology in 1981 and 1986.
He said he was fortunate to have studied in the U.S. and called it a “transformative” experience that opened up a new world for him.
“I was able to…look way beyond where I grew up and I learned some great personality lessons from [that experience],” Jones said. “I think the opportunities these days for students to take advantage of everything the world has to offer is tremendous and it’s something I strongly supports and endorse.”
He said he believes the Wisconsin Idea effectively contributes to the community and the state.
“Madison is an extraordinary place and it has a great future. I’m just glad to be a candidate and hope that I may be a part of that future,” he said.
Jones will visit the campus on March 5.