After over 40 years of service, Ikram Khawaja, Youngstown State University provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, is retiring on June 30.
YSU President Randy Dunn said Khawaja has served as a strong ally to the university.
“YSU has been served faithfully and well by Dr. Khawaja during his tenure as provost. He has kept us moving forward at the heart of our operation — teaching, learning and research — during what have been very difficult times financially. We have continued to add faculty, strengthen programs and build our research enterprise even as the going got tough money-wise,” Dunn said.
Khawaja began teaching as a geology professor at the university in 1968. He retired in 2002, but after three years, he was asked to return as the dean of arts and sciences.
“That assignment lasted about two years — 2005 until 2007,” Khawaja said. “I was asked to again temporarily refill this position [provost] while the university went on a search. The search resulted in people that the leadership, the board and the president, didn’t feel that they were happy with, so they asked if I would continue. After serving a year as an interim, I was appointed in 2008 as the provost.”
The role of the provost is to head the academic affairs division of a university. Typically the largest division at any university, academic affairs provides leadership for academic activity and initiatives at a university including library, research and international programs.
“The job at this office is to have a vision and to have an agenda, but it is to also to encourage people to think creatively,” Khawaja said. “The work is ultimately going to be done by the people in the trenches. … What our challenge is: how do we motivate people to think creatively, in a futuristic way? From that landscape of ideas, select those things that make sense.”
After his retirement, Khawaja plans to return to his home country of Pakistan to assist in furthering its educational development.
“So for three successive semesters — 2003 Spring, 2004 Spring and 2005 Spring — I volunteered at a university there, which was the first university established for women in Pakistan. I volunteered there to help develop their environmental science program,” he said. “That was a very awarding, meaningful kind of engagement. I don’t have a project right now of that kind, but I am going overseas in a couple of weeks, and I will explore something similar to see what I can help with my background.”
Khawaja will leave a palpable and lasting impact on the university, even outside his role as provost. During his time in the geology department, he facilitated the donation of $1 million worth of minerals that led to the founding of the YSU Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum. He also played a pivotal role in the founding of the YSU Center for Islamic Studies.
As provost, however, Khawaja said he feels that he will leave behind his lasting dedication to the importance of a strong faculty.
“To me, the core of a university is the faculty. Everything else, we can talk about, but if we don’t have the faculty as the most qualified, dedicated focused unit, the university is not worth its salt,” he said. “That is my core. As a provost, one of my passions was to hire the best faculty we can. … That would be the legacy that I would like to leave: to hire the best that we could attract. To me, that would make the university of tomorrow. It is not — and I am sorry to say it — who the provost is, nor who the dean is or who the football coach is. Those things are great, but they don’t make the university.”
Jack Fahey, vice president of Student Affairs, confirmed that Khawaja’s dedication to a quality faculty is easily seen.
“He has gone through a period of time, not only because of early retirement but also because of changes to state retirement system. We have lost a lot of our very talented, long-term veteran faculty members. I think that his legacy will be that we replaced them with really first rate people from all over the country, all over the world,” Fahey said. “That is going to pay us benefits for years and years to come.”
In the next few weeks, Dunn will appoint a search committee, and a search firm will be hired to conduct a national hunt for the next provost.
“It will be critical for our next provost to lead a process of academic visioning and priority setting on this campus to decide what we do — and possibly what we don’t — in terms of our academic programming, services and staffing. We can’t take an ad hoc approach to these decisions, and the new provost will need to determine an inclusive process that gives YSU some tangible direction to move into the future,” Dunn said. “This is an important task we’ll be asking someone to take on, who will already have big shoes to fill as Ikram [Khawaja] steps out of his role.”