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Final PSU chancellor candidate to interview: Kulkarni replacement should be in place by July 1

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/14/18

The final remaining Penn State Harrisburg chancellor candidate to interview has an “unwavering commitment to public higher education,” he told the Press & Journal.

Dr. Kumara …

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Final PSU chancellor candidate to interview: Kulkarni replacement should be in place by July 1

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The final remaining Penn State Harrisburg chancellor candidate to interview has an “unwavering commitment to public higher education,” he told the Press & Journal.

Dr. Kumara Jayasuriya is provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia State University in Institute, West Virginia. He is scheduled to be on campus Thursday.

Dr. William Behre, provost and chief academic officer at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey, was on campus Feb. 6. Dr. John Mason, vice president for research and economic development at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama (and a 1972 Penn State Harrisburg graduate) was scheduled to be on campus Feb. 12.

The Press & Journal spoke to those two men in the Feb. 7 edition.

Chancellor Mukund S. Kulkarni plans to retire  June 30, after more than 30 years at Penn State, including the last eight in his current position. The anticipated start date for the new chancellor is July 1.

Interview process

While on campus, candidates meet all day with various groups including students, campus administrators, faculty, staff and representatives from the college’s Board of Advisers, which is comprised of community leaders. The candidates also receive a campus tour. On day two, candidates meet with executives at University Park, said Yvonne Harhigh, Office of Marketing and Communications at Penn State Harrisburg.

Chancellors at Penn State report to the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses. Dr. Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses and executive chancellor, makes the hiring decisions after consultation with faculty, staff, students and university administrators who have met with all of the finalists. Hanes was chancellor at Penn State Harrisburg from 2000 to 2010.

Personal experience

Jayasuriya said he “personally experienced the awesome transformational power” public higher education can have through his own life.

“I’m from a poor family in Sri Lanka. I felt like the only way out of that was to get a good education. That’s why I have personally observed the transformational power education can have on individuals,” he said.

“Once I saw the transformational power, I wanted to make that available to other students, so that’s why I'm very passionate about higher education,” he said.

Jayasuriya earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and they hired him to be a lecturer. He applied for teaching assistantships and came to Southern Illinois University, where he finished his master’s degree. He moved to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to work with his dissertation adviser and received a doctorate there.

“Before I even defended my dissertation I got a job at Indiana University East,” he said.

From 1993 to 2011, Jayasuriya served in a variety of positions at Indiana University East, rising from assistant professor of mathematics to dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics. He then served as associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and a professor of mathematics at Purdue University North Central, from 2011 to 2014.

Working at those two small regional campuses in Indiana is very similar to what it would be like at Penn State Harrisburg, he said.

“The regional campuses have a nimbleness and agility to be responsive to the industry and the increasingly diverse student population,” he said.

“Learning about Penn State Harrisburg, I realized that we share the same set of values, such as diversity and inclusion, shared governance, academic freedom and so on,” he added. “In particular, I’m fascinated by the diverse population of students they have at Penn State Harrisburg.”

He said one of his tasks at West Virginia State University was to increase the number of international students. That number has gone from about 15 to 130, and includes a partnership with Ningbo University in China, with professors teaching some classes there.

He cited the retention rates for full-time students at the campus is about 88 percent, according to the college’s website.

“That is one of the highest I have seen at a regional campus,” he said.

He said he has always taught, no matter how high he has reached in his administrative duties.

“I started as an assistant professor, was promoted to associate professor, and promoted to full professor. I have gone through the ranks, gone through the tenure process. So I understand the faculty life,” he said. “I am very proud of my accomplishments in teaching. I have published papers in teaching, I have given speeches, and I have won some teaching awards. Teaching is a big part of my life.”

At every job, he said, he has been spokesperson and a public advocate for the university, talking to groups, churches, Rotary clubs, and the like.

“The biggest impact I have made is with the school districts. We have a dual-credit program here. In 2014, we had 240 students. We have over 2,000 students now,” he said, adding that he worked with the WVSU president to bring the tuition down to $25 a credit hour. 

On his interview, just as the university wants to see if he is the right person for that job as chancellor, “I want to see if that university is the right fit for me, my experience and my values,” he said.

“Right now by looking at Penn State Harrisburg from a distance, I am excited and I feel that I am the right person and I have that fit,” he said. “But at the same time, once you are there, you need to experience that.”