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Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College: Interview with Provost David Bejou

By Suzanne Lazar ’16, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College; editor, The Student Connection

February 8, 2018

The interview series “Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College” continues with David Bejou, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.  Bejou, former Dean of the College of Business and Social Sciences at West Virginia State University, Institute, W.Va., and a tenured professor of marketing, stepped into the role(s) of Provost and Executive VP for academic affairs at SUNY Empire State College, in July 2017.

Bejou has served public higher education in academic and administrative leadership roles for the past 25 years.  He is dedicated to building and maintaining a strong shared governance that provides balance, he is dedicated to providing an educational environment that emphasizes diversity, inclusion, and human rights, and he is passionate about giving students the best college experience, starting with enrollment, working with their mentors, and keeping them engaged through the entirety of their educational journey.

Bejou has authored and contributed to several publications that focus on organizational communication, shared governance and balance in higher education, and building relationships between learning institutions and students.

I had the honor and pleasure of talking with Provost Bejou recently.  He is settling nicely into his new role and he is actively working on some wonderful strategies and initiatives for ways to create more student engagement and drive student success at SUNY Empire State College.  Bejou is very excited about getting out to the different ESC locations and collaborating with students, faculty and staff.  His enthusiasm is admirable and speaking with him was enjoyable.  Here’s what he had to say:

Q:  Did you have passion for something specific in high school that drove your higher education interests and studies?

A: The motivation to serve others by teaching and helping people to succeed.

Q: Why did you choose a degree in Linguistics and English Literature when embarking on your first college experience in earning a Bachelor’s Degree?

A: I have always been fascinated with different languages and cultures, and consider myself to be a lifelong learner.  My degree in linguistics and literature has helped me professionally, and it continues to be useful, especially when working with people from different cultures and backgrounds.  I believe in liberal arts as a foundation of higher education.  The ability to communicate, to reason, and to analyze problems and find solutions in a creative manner, are critical to being an educated person. 

Q: Upon completion of earning a Bachelor’s degree, what drove you to pursue an MBA in Aviation Management and a Ph.D. in Business and Marketing?

A: By the time I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I had worked as a jet engine mechanic for 10 years and it seemed like a good fit to combine the two unique disciplines of literature and aviation.  The MBA in Aviation Management brought my love for liberal arts and my love for science, technology, engineering, and math together. 

After I completed the MBA, I began teaching as a part-time faculty member at several universities.  After many years, my mentors advised me to pursue a doctoral degree and, because of my interest working with different people and organizations, I chose marketing.

Q: During your previous roles in higher education, what was the most challenging obstacle you were faced with and how did you overcome it?

A:  Three challenging obstacles that I would rank at the top are:

Shared governance: To me, shared governance is the most difficult challenge in higher education.  Without a genuine shared governance system, institutions of higher education struggle and fail to fulfill their mission to serve students and help them succeed.   As co-chair of a taskforce that focused on shared governance, I collaborated with the faculty senate, staff senate, the student government association, Vice Presidents, Deans, and department Chairs to create a new-shared governance system. Every member of our internal constituents had a seat at the table to discuss issues that affected our college and how best serve our students so that they succeed.  It is critical that students participate in college committees and projects in order to gain leadership experience and be part of decisions that affect them.

Student Retention:  Right after shared governance, student retention is the second biggest challenge in higher education. Higher education was a game changer for me.  Three mentors helped me to stay in college and finish my education.  When we attract a student to our college, we make a promise to serve that student and see him or her through to graduation.  A low retention rate costs the college a lot of money. We need to work together to fulfill our promises to our students.  At Empire State College, students are fortunate to work with their mentors to overcome obstacles that may have prevented them from earning a degree in the past.  I highly value the mentoring model that Empire State College has and encourage students to reach out to their mentors if they experience difficulties.

In 2005, I developed an enrollment management and retention model that has been nationally recognized, and has been implemented at five different universities with great results. My publication “Treating Students as Customers,” has also been well received, and was featured in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’ BizED magazine, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and CBS News.

Diversity, inclusion, and human rights issues:  Diversity, inclusion, and human rights are also critical issues in higher education.  Although most institutions attempt to address these issues, challenges remain for underserved populations. I worked at historically black institutions for 17 years, which helped me to understand diversity and inclusion in higher education. I learned that by being open, transparent, communicating, and understanding what diversity brings to higher education, that I could use my role within the institution to further students’ goals of obtaining a degree.  In 2014, I co-founded a human rights conference to promote the rights of women, children, minorities, and LGBT individuals among others.  I have a strong commitment to ensuring that diversity and inclusion are incorporated in everything we do in Academic Affairs and at our college.

Q:  Why do you think your interest in higher education continued to grow to eventually lead you into the administrative and academic roles you filled, starting with Griffith University through your current role as Provost at SUNY Empire State College?

A: I moved from faculty to administration, beginning with Griffith in Australia, because I wanted to be in a position to help faculty, staff and students in a different capacity and scope.  I have a sincere passion for serving students to ensure their success and, together working with faculty and staff, we have been able to serve students over the last 20 years.

Q: Tell us about why you chose to pursue the role as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at ESC?

A: I was drawn to the mission of Empire State College and its core goals that value its mentor model of serving students.  I joined ESC to continue my journey to serve non-traditional, underrepresented, underserved, and military students.  ESC is a nationally recognized institution for non-traditional education, and I am looking forward at the opportunity to continue the expansion of the college’s role in non-traditional higher education. ESC faculty, professionals, and support staff have created academic programming and services that allow thousands of adult learners to achieve the dream of obtaining a college degree.   Individualized degree programs structured to meet the needs of each student building on prior learning, and multiple modes of study, have made Empire State College a leader in the areas of adult education, online learning, and prior learning assessment.  It is an honor to work with faculty, staff, and administrators of ESC to serve our students in New York and beyond. 

Q:  What goals did you set and what do you hope to accomplish while serving in this role? 

A: My overarching goal is to achieve a consistent student service and experience across our 34 locations and online, while assisting faculty and staff to serve our students, and to increase our undergraduate, graduate and international programs and offerings. Some of my specific goals are creation of an ESC academic master plan to guide our academic planning, successful implementation of our strategic plan, and successful reaffirmation of our Middle State Accreditation in 2020.

Q: Were any of your previous higher education roles in a non-traditional and distance learning setting? 

A: Yes, starting with Texas A&M-Texarkana, almost all of our students were non-traditional. We pioneered distance education using two-way video conferencing in the early 1990s, to serve our students who could not attend class on campus. At Virginia State University, we had a high number of distance education courses to serve the non-traditional students.  At West Virginia State University, in our Regents Bachelor of Arts program, 100% of our students were non-traditional adult learners.  While at West Virginia, we created four, strictly online programs.

Q: Tell us how you plan to engage with, and support students in a non-traditional and distance learning environment.

A: By engaging with students through the governance process, attending student leadership meetings, student mixers across the state, and in April attending the Student Wellness Retreat.  I also am continuing to refine working with our academic leaders, our faculty, and staff our student services to better manage the student lifecycle here at Empire State College. 

Q: In closing, is there anything you would like to tell the current and future students and do you have any last remarks in general?

A: I am honored to be the Provost of Empire State College and look forward to meeting more of our students in the coming months.  I’m especially looking forward to our graduation ceremonies later this year when I can celebrate our students’ accomplishments along with their family and friends.

. . .

SUNY Empire State College hosts a variety of events, mixers and workshops, collegewide and at varying ESC locations.  These are great opportunities to connect face-to-face with fellow students, faculty, staff. 

Check the college calendar and the alumni events calendar for event listings.  You may just have an opportunity to meet Provost Bejou in person!!!  

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