He’s not from New Mexico nor does he work here.
But Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky might be the closest thing to a New Mexican among the candidates vying for the job of president at the state’s largest university.
A Los Angeles native whose career is presently situated on the north shore of Long Island, Kaushansky has a lifelong fascination with New Mexico, born in part from his boyhood travels along Route 66 with his father. He and his wife even own a home in Santa Fe that they visit about six times a year, eagerly anticipating every trip “despite not even being skiers,” Kaushansky said Tuesday at the University of New Mexico.
“I know a lot about the people (in New Mexico), the towns, the cities, the many cultures, the amazing arts, the fantastic food,” he said. “I even know the official state question.” (Red or green?)
Kaushansky, the senior vice president of health sciences and medical school dean at New York’s Stony Brook University, was the last of the five finalists for the UNM presidency to hold an open forum on the Albuquerque campus. The other candidates — David Brenner, Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Charles “Chuck” Staben and Garnett Stokes — held their forums earlier this month.
Kaushansky said the UNM job is the first — and perhaps last — university presidency he has ever pursued.
Though his career has been concentrated in the health sciences, Kaushansky expressed confidence Tuesday that his 30-year career in public higher education has given him the skill set necessary to run an entire university and offered insight into his vision for UNM.
“From my perspective, the essential mission for the next president of UNM is to take a university with great potential and shorten that to simply be ‘great,'” he said, citing the need to establish and promote ambitious goals, find and keep the best leaders, invite multiple perspectives into the decision-making process and course-correct when necessary.
He touted his experience fostering collaboration across academic disciplines and sometimes even institutional boundaries, citing Stony Brook’s partnership with New York’s Mount Sinai Health System. He said UNM has the potential to cut across the divides that separate disciplines; for example, rapid advancements in technology have created a need for engineers who better understand business and law.
He also recommended more partnerships with business and industry — both as a way to fill budget gaps created by reduced state funding and to make the education “real world relevant” for students.
But the candidate also encouraged UNM to address budget constraints by identifying and focusing on the things it does well, and evaluate the necessity of those programs that attract fewer students or have less success.
“We just have to make those hard decisions, and they’re very hard decisions to make. They affect a lot of people, but we have to make them in public higher education to greatly impact our students, our staff, our faculty and provide fulfilling careers,” he said.
Like the previous candidates, Kaushansky fielded audience questions about his experience promoting diversity, addressing undocumented populations and building connections between the university’s primary decision makers and the rest of the institution’s community.
Kaushansky said that about half of the 30 leaders he had hired were women. About a quarter, he said, were under-represented minorities. Stony Brook in 2016 appointed Dr. Joanna Chikwe as chief of cardiac surgery, and Stony Brook featured Chikwe, who is black, and her colleagues in a full-page New York Times ad “as a way to make a very, very profound statement that we are a university and a health care system of lots of different faces and backgrounds,” Kaushansky said.
As for his experience with undocumented immigrants, he said he has worked to ensure everyone feels welcome at Stony Brook Hospital and is working on “No fear here” language to post on the emergency room walls in the wake of reports that immigration agents sometimes hang outside of hospitals around New York City.
“At least in my world we have put up a defense against that kind of nonsense,” he said. “The president at Stony Brook has also made this a huge priority — not just the ‘Dreamers,’ but all people should feel welcome and be able to advance their goals at Stony Brook University and on our health sciences campus as well.”
Kaushansky said he favors “face to face” interactions to stay in tune with students, faculty and staff, noting that he hosts a regular raffle for medical school students to have breakfast with the dean and includes students on the curriculum committee.