After years working in leadership positions at other colleges, often on a temporary basis, Tom Smith said Tuesday he is ready to become the University of Idaho’s provost and executive vice president.

The UI hosted Smith, the interim provost and executive vice chancellor for University of California-Riverside, in a virtual open forum Tuesday afternoon.

Smith served in some leadership positions at UC-Riverside prior to his interim appointment, including as dean of the university’s graduate college of education, and more recently as interim vice chancellor for student affairs. He said the latter did much to prepare him for higher echelons of academic leadership. He said the role “really changed my whole attitude towards cross-campus leadership.”

“It wasn’t that I had anything against Student Affairs coming into it, but I was just not very knowledgeable about all of the ways in which the staff working in student affairs support the success of our undergrad students,” Smith said. “Ever since that time, and in my role as interim provost, I really have focused on how to bridge the academic and student affairs sides of the university so that everybody is working together in the best interests of students.”

Smith said he has learned a lot in his roughly 16 months as UC-Riverside’s interim provost and executive vice president and feels that this term, in addition to prior leadership experience, has prepared him for a similar post at the UI.

The COVID-19 pandemic in particular gave Smith the opportunity to provide academic leadership as the school made abrupt shifts in instructional strategies and research, which he said helped him to collaborate and lead teams of people from all sectors of the university community.

As a leader, Smith described himself as a listener first, saying “I don’t go into a room thinking I have all of the answers.”

“Part of leadership is finding the best ways to balance your vision for where both your unit and institution needs to go with the hard problem solving that needs to come up just to get through the day,” Smith said. “You can’t overemphasize one or the other — but balancing that so that you always have your eye on where you’re trying to go is important.“

Smith said if he were to be selected, his focus would be on improvement of the UI system and using data to assess whether university goals are being attained or if an adjustment to strategy is needed. He said he’d like to avoid confusion surrounding leadership objectives.

“I see my role as being sort of central to supporting and guiding everybody who works with me,” Smith said. “It’s the people who actually do the work who should get the credit when we have positive accomplishments.”

Smith is the third of five finalists interviewing for the UI post to present in a public forum. He was preceded by David Rosowsky, former provost and senior vice president for the University of Vermont, on Monday and by Andrea Golato on Friday. Golato is the dean of the graduate college at Texas State University.

A Daily News article published Tuesday incorrectly stated Golato would interview this Friday because of a Daily News error.

The next public forum will feature the UI’s current Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Torrey Lawrence at 2 p.m. today, followed by Dean of Business for North Dakota State University Scott Beaulier at the same time Thursday.

An online feedback form for candidates will be posted after each candidate forum on the UI’s website.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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