UMES president's tenure tested but strong
By Deborah Gates, Daily Times staff writer
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — (Feb, 26, 2013) — During a moment certain to mark Juliette Bell’s darkest as University of Maryland Eastern Shore president, the campus community gave her a solid vote of confidence.
The salute — by an assembly of 3,000 students and supporters in the wake of a student homicide — was a public affirmation of support for the president observers say flows quietly across campus.
“She’s doing an amazing job,” said Shana Washington, president of the UMES Student Government Association. “She’s open.”
In the aftermath of the murder of a UMES student Feb. 17, Bell has been a strong presence among the student body, hosting town meetings and answering questions from the community. Observers say away from the spotlight, Bell has taken defining steps in her first six months as president to prioritize students and academic programs.
Since September, she has appointed three cabinet members including the first provost in the history of the university, Ronald A. Nykiel.
Supporters say the move elevates the power of the senior academic officer, shifting weight in the administrative hierarchy to academic affairs, from administrative affairs.
“One subtle but important enhancement to our organization structure was the addition of the provost title to the vice president of academic affairs position,” said Bryant Mitchell, an associate professor in the school’s department of business, management and accounting.
The move signals a change in budgetary oversight of programs furthering academic life to academic affairs, Mitchell said.
“The addition of the provost position means that a more decentralized budgetary system will have to be instituted resulting in shifting the (focus) of power from administrative affairs to academic affairs,” he said. “One of the most important organizational changes Dr. Bell made was upgrading the position of vice president of academic affairs.”
In a statement, Bell said her decision to adjust the title of the senior-ranking administrator over academic programs came after confirming the title change was consistent with other system institutions. Provost and vice president of academic affairs is the title Bell held at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, prior to joining UMES in July.
She cites Nykiel’s experience in academia and corporate acumen as essential in her mission. Among priorities for the president is student retention and distinguishing UMES in programs and research related to STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“His extensive experience in academia and the corporate world, along with his expertise in strategic planning and marketing will be invaluable as UMES continues to position itself to better serve our students, the region, state and nation,” Bell said.
Nykiel joins UMES from Husson University, a 3,500-student private college in Bangor, Maine, where he was founding dean of the college of business. The university also offers similar degree programs as the 4,000-student UMES, including pharmacy and physical therapy. Both universities offer academic programs in hospitality and tourism or restaurant management.
Among his experiences are managerial and executive positions at companies including IBM, Xerox and Marriott Corp.
Bill Robinson, spokesman at UMES, said Nykiel was not available to comment for this story, but he called the provost’s credentials in education and corporate America “a real advantage.”
While she continues to strengthen the senior leadership at UMES, Bell has cemented her reputation among her students as transparent and personable.
At the assembly last week, she likened the audience’s grief with her own feelings when, as a young girl, her mother died suddenly.
“Just as I survived the loss of my mother, we will survive and grow stronger from these injustices,” she said.
Students met Bell’s five-member cabinet as a group at the assembly for the murder victim. Washington, the SGA president, said unity among existing members and new-comers in the inner circle is a testament to Bell’s people skills.
“It was nice to see how they mod and mesh together,” Washington said. “It definitely was a good feeling to hear from her relative to the situation we’re going through. It is known for Dr. Bell to give us a story to relate to her way of coping.”
This article was published by The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times and is reproduced here with the newspaper's permission.