Gatepost Interview with President F. Javier Cevallos

Please provide a brief summary of your resume and educational background.

I did my undergraduate at University of Puerto Rico and then I did my graduate work at the University of Illinois in Urbana and I did my master’s and Ph.D. there. Then, my first job was at the University of Maine at Orono, and I was there for three years. And then from Orono, I moved to UMass Amherst. And I was at UMass Amherst for 18 years. I got engaged in administration. And from there I was hired at Kutztown University, Pennsylvania. And I’ve spent 12 years in Kutztown, and this past year, this opportunity came up and I was just delighted that Framingham had an opportunity, and here I am.

What do you like about being a university president and what are some of the challenges?

Well, one of the things that I really like is that you can make a difference. Universities first and foremost are academic institutions. We exist to educate you. The reason that we exist is because of students. So to be able to always focus on the needs of students for academic success first and foremost, but also for many other aspects of student life, is really important. So I really like and have always enjoyed that.

Universities are also large, complex organizations. We have a lot of people involved doing a lot of things. So sometimes, there are challenges with, you know, budgets and facilities, all those sorts of things that can distract us from our main, core mission. So the challenge is always to keep in mind that we are here because of basically two reasons: student success, academic excellence. Everything else is just supporting those two things. Institutions now are really complex. Student success is not only related to the academic side, because we also fulfill a function that is the developmental function. You learn a lot about yourselves as students when you are on this campus. So you engage in activities like The Gatepost, like athletics, like theater, like music and the residence life, of course. So all of those things provide you with a well-rounded education so you are somebody who is going to come out of here not only with the skills in a specific discipline, but also with skills to deal with the world. And that is really important for us.

One of the initiatives that we are looking into … is providing students with a cocurricular transcript. When you get your transcript from the University, not only will it say that you took biology and chemistry and physics and English and whatever, but it will also have something to say that you also were the editor of The Gatepost, that you were involved in these things, and that is part of making sure that we provide you the tools to present yourself to the world in a better way. So it is something that Vice President Conley is working on. … This is something that I think is really important for you to have.

Since coming to FSU in July, what has been your impression of the campus?

My impression has been very positive. It is a great place. I think that the grounds are beautiful. I mean, the campus is a really beautiful campus. I can’t wait to see all these trees with turning leaves in the fall. I’m going to have to close the windows so I won’t be distracted . And the people have been wonderful. I think everyone has gone out of their way to make sure we have felt welcome, my family and I. And we have really enjoyed the first couple of months here. There are a lot of very, very talented people here. I think the only thing that we don’t do well is that we don’t talk about how good we are. And I think we really have to do more about letting the world know how good this institution is. It’s a real jewel. We have to market the jewel so people will know the excellent things going on here.

What are some of the other initiatives you’d like to focus on at FSU? 

One of the things that we have to continue to work on is we have to make sure that students are successful. I think retention and graduation rates need to go up, and we have to improve those. I want to be able to understand what is happening when students start with us, and drop out – and there are two ways of looking at that. One is, if you start with us then you transfer to another institution for whatever reason … and you complete your degree in another place- that’s fine. Obviously, I want every student to be completing with us, but I understand things happen. My concern is that we’re losing students that just simply drop. And if so, what can we do to make sure that we’re providing the support for those students to make sure they succeed. You know, we have to really focus on the success.

A very important part, as well, is that we live in a diverse, global world, and we have to reflect the community we live in. And when you finish your degree, and you go out to work in the workplace, you’re going to be surrounded by people of all sorts of walks of life, of all countries, all races, all ethnicities, all religions. So we have to make sure that we also reflect that world. It’s important for you because we live in a diverse world and a global world. We have to learn to do that. And the best way is by making sure that you’re familiar with everybody so you know different things from all cultures. So a push on diversity is important. That has always been one of my goals.

You mentioned in an interview we did with you last year that increasing diversity at Kutztown was one of your big accomplishments. How do you think your experiences and initiatives there might translate to our campus?

I think that every situation is different. And this institution, Framingham, has already done quite a bit in terms of recruiting a diverse student body. And that is great. I actually want to continue to do that. Obviously, some of the things that we did in my previous job will carry on – my connections with schools, my personal involvement in meeting with parents and whatever is important, and obviously supporting the diverse activities. Yesterday when we were talking about the CDIO [Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer: See page 5 for article] will also help us bring a better understanding to campus about the whole gamut of things included in diversity.

What’s something students might be surprised to know about you? 

Well, I like to cook. Many, many things. I think that my wife married me because I know how to cook. I always joke about that. I cooked every day for the first 14 years of our married life. That was fun. I still do most of the cooking at home, because I find it very relaxing. I play guitar – really badly. But again, music is a really good thing to do. It’s really relaxing.

Can you talk a little bit about one of your proudest achievements?

Well, that’s an interesting question. Proudest achievements. I think that moving the diversity agenda at Kutztown was one thing that I am really proud of. But I would actually like to turn that question around and I want to think that my proudest achievement is yet to come. So I look at the past and say, “Well, all that is done, but there are so many things we have to do in the future.”

Do you have any advice for students?

My first and foremost: be students. Study and think about academic success. Keep your eyes on the prize and the prize is graduation. That’s the first reason you’re here. The second thing that I would tell students is, don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t be afraid. Ask. We’re here to answer questions. And as I’ve mentioned before … if you don’t know who to ask, ask me. Send me an email, and I will reply to your emails and I will connect you with the person who can answer the question if I don’t know the answer.

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