8 Questions with Noel Painter
Noel Painter, Ph.D., was appointed provost and executive vice president last month after serving in the interim position since June 2016.
In his new role, he will serve as chief academic officer for Stetson University, overseeing undergraduate and graduate education in the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Law, the School of Business Administration and the School of Music.
Painter has been on the faculty of the School of Music for 17 years, director of music theory, associate dean, and briefly as interim dean of the School of Music. His training is in music theory and percussion performance. Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., commented that Painter “demonstrated his well-recognized integrity, intelligence, energy, and passion for excellence” during his interim role as provost.
When you arrived at Stetson in 1999, did you ever envision yourself becoming provost?
Throughout my time at Stetson, I have been interested in having a broader and broader impact on things across campus. I came here in 1999, knowing even as far back as when I applied for the job and interviewed on campus that I would become the director of music theory in my second year. Truly, that was my interest in the position at Stetson. How many people get to leave grad school and move into a position where they’re going to have an almost immediate impact on the entire core of a music curriculum?
In the interim provost position, I had the opportunity to see how the work of the university is done — to sit at the table and have my voice be heard about the things that I value, particularly the importance of undergraduate and graduate education at all of Stetson’s campuses. To be able to have impact on moving Stetson forward, and to think so broadly about 21st century education, is an astounding honor.
Do many music faculty members become provosts?
It is certainly a rarity. In fact, the combination of things that I do as a musician – the combination of music theory (a very thought-based and academic side of music) mixed with percussion performance is not common. I could tell you of only one other person — one of my former professors at Furman University, in fact — who is a percussionist-provost.
Still, the way in which we learn about music has many connections with the work that’s done in an administrative position, especially as it relates to organizations and ensembles. The way that performing musicians learn to interact in an ensemble, to listen carefully to others, to play a part that builds on what everyone around you is doing are analogous to the leadership role of a provost, and indicative of the special, somewhat unique way that my musical history leads me to this position.
You’re described as a hard worker, and a man of integrity. What unique qualities do you think you bring to the job?
I don’t know that there’s anything unique, but there are some things that I’m proud to value and that I think will help me in this position. I do honestly listen to people. I don’t necessarily have a preconceived notion about what an outcome should look like, and I don’t assume that the way I think is the right way and the only way. In the end, I value collective solutions to the issues that we face.
Another thing I value is at the core of my beliefs: I wake up in the morning expecting that the work I will do today will promote equity. That can be accomplished in a lot of different ways, but I will never forget that value. I will put in the time to get the job done because that is what’s expected of me and that’s what got me here. It is part of what people appreciate – that if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.
People also say you have a passion for teaching. How will that help you in this job?
Excellent teaching starts with communicating well. In part, teaching is the art of figuring out how to make that connection with someone, often times in ways that may not have been the way you did it before or the way it worked for someone else. As a teacher and a provost, I have to work to reach all audiences in a way that’s engaging and compelling, and gets across the importance of the content that I’m discussing.
Will you still teach?
I have to figure out a way to continue to be engaged with students. After all, that has been the core of my work at Stetson for all of my years prior to this appointment. Maintaining that connection will need to be an intentional interaction that I create. Could that be teaching a class? It could, though it would have to be done very carefully. I can tell you as a teacher, if I have an 11 o’clock class in the morning, I may come in at 7:15 to do my work, but my brain is wrapped around what I’m going to talk about in class until I teach. I would need to be sure that I could fulfill my responsibility to the class and still be an effective senior administrator. To put myself in a position where I could be distracted for a certain period of time every day, that wouldn’t be fair to either role.
So whatever way I figure it out – and I will figure out some way – I will do it in a way that I’m confident I can do both responsibilities well.
What part of your music training do you think you will use in this job?
My discipline – music theory – is one in which analysis is critical. Analysis is taking a piece of music, looking at what you have in front of you, having all the detail there, and sifting through those things to find the path — to find the answer to the question or find several answers to the question. Then the work becomes sifting out the questions and answers that carry real meaning.
So when I’m having six or seven hours of meetings with people every day, it’s not just to sit around and talk. We’re solving problems, we’re finding paths through these difficult situations and often times multiple paths. You have to decide on which one is the way to go, which one will bear the most fruit, which one has the fewest obstacles. I think that’s very much like the type of analysis that I have done in music.
If someone were to ask, why should I attend Stetson University, what would you say?
We’re actually in the process of trying, as a community at Stetson, to answer that collectively. The academic leadership at this institution has been wrestling with how to carefully articulate the value of our educational and student life experience. It is important that we should be able to ask that question to a lot of different people at this institution, and then start to hear some commonality – a shared answer. It would move us forward greatly as an institution and draw us together as a community to have a shared understanding of the experience that we offer to students.
To more directly answer your question, students should come to Stetson because we care about individuals here. When students choose Stetson, they should know that we are going to have high expectations for them and that we are going to support them in achieving those high expectations.
The learning experience that they’ll have at Stetson is not one that ends when they leave the classroom but hopefully permeates an awful lot of the things they do here, be it where they live, or extracurricular activities, or clubs, or Greek Life, or athletics, and indeed the circle of friends they come to know will help them to become more than they would be otherwise.
That experience is wrapped around excellence in education in a field, discipline or profession, and value in liberal learning—the importance of general education that we do here with critical thinking, writing, communicating verbally, etc. That learning seeks to imbed the values that our community embraces around global learning, intellectual development, inclusivity and personal growth.
What are a few of your five-year goals?
They would involve some of the things that we’ve already put our stamp on. One example would be our support for adult education, in terms of graduate studies in business, law, and arts and sciences, and the way that adults might engage in undergraduate studies here, so that we continue to make the Stetson educational experience open to a broader and broader population.
One other thing in particular—and we’ll be talking about this to the Stetson community on Feb. 24 at a community meeting—is an emphasis on retaining students and assisting in their persistence toward graduation. The degree to which students are retained and persist is a mark of the quality of the institution. So we aim to have measurable improvements in that area, casting a wide net across the institution so that the initiative is not something that Academic Affairs is doing alone, but that it is Academic Affairs, Development, Alumni Relations, Marketing, Enrollment Management, Athletics, Facilities, Finance, and Student Success.…We all need to work together toward that common goal.
Education: Bachelor of Music from Furman University; Master of Arts in music theory and Master of Music in percussion performance and literature, both from Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester; and Ph.D. in music theory from Eastman School of Music.
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
Family: Married to wife Frankie, a personal trainer. They have two sons, Connor, 18, and Aidan, 15.