GRCC Provost explains recent Academic and Student Affairs staff reorganization
Earlier this summer, Grand Rapids Community College’s Provost Brian Knetl laid out his plan to reorganize the staff of Academic and Student Affairs.
This reorganization, which will fully be in effect for 2022 Fall Semester, is something that Provost Brian Knetl has always wanted to do, but the timing wasn’t quite right until just recently.
“The timing felt right,” Knetl said. “We had some retirements and we had some deans in current positions leave to take jobs at other schools. So, the timing seemed right with the least disruption to the people in those positions, to make those decisions to reorganize.”
As far as the staff members moved around, Knetl firmly believes that GRCC has a great group of people from which to choose from. He mainly sought to give students more support but he also considered the well-being of the staff.
“We put some really strong internal people in positions then spent quite a few months getting some feedback and getting some research on other structures for directions I wanted to move,” Knetl said. “Then we kind of put a plan in place that I think really did two things: one was to build capacity amongst the academic dean positions that oversee classroom faculty, programs and curriculum. I also wanted to make sure that I was building a better coordination of student services from the first point of contact all the way through their time at GRCC until they complete their transfer.”
Knetl’s three years of employment with GRCC have helped him realize that there are always improvements that can be made.
“After being here for a couple of years, you start to learn about a place and see opportunities to do things a little differently,” Knetl said. “I started to see that there were things that we could build upon moving forward, so when the moment came, that’s when I thought that if I was going to do something, now would be the right time to take some action.”
Even though the reorganization of ASA staff has shifted employees’ responsibilities, there are also vacant positions that Knetl and GRCC still need to fill to run at full capacity.
“We just did searches for five dean positions,” Knetl said. “Three were successful and completed, and those deans will be with us this year. One of those searches wasn’t successful and we are working on a plan to fill that vacancy, and then one of the searches for a dean on our Lakeshore campus is still in progress.”
Deans new to their positions include Dean of STEM Kristi Haik, Dean of Liberal Arts Jason Vinson and Dean of Health Sciences Lisa Radak.
While candidates are pursued to fill these vacant positions, Knetl also thinks it is important to keep reevaluating places that the school could do better.
“Any open positions that we have, we want to fill,” Knetl said. “What I think is next, what I want my deans and the people that work with them to do, is to look at their own areas and see if we have the right organization in those areas. (We want to keep) serving students and making GRCC a strong institution and we can do that by always going through that process of considering what we could be doing differently and what we could be doing better.”
Knetl’s choices for current GRCC staff who are filling interim roles meet specific criteria. While Knetl maintains that an interim role has the potential to turn into a permanent one, he was quick to point out that the people he promoted were dutiful and willing to serve the campus in whatever capacity was expected of them.
“I think it does (have the potential to become a permanent role),” Knetl said. “GRCC does not often put people in interim positions and then hire them. It can be done, it has been done. Different institutions approach that differently. When I was selecting people for interim roles, I wanted to try to put people in those roles who weren’t necessarily interested in it (being hired). But if they were, it is something I would have entertained. As I was looking for interim candidates, I was looking for people who would be willing to serve, but not necessarily wanting the role.”
In regards to the qualities desired when considering a permanent position rather than a temporary or interim one, Knetl thinks it is important to recognize the potential of a candidate.
“When I am looking to hire a dean, I do look at experience. I do look to see what their background brings to their position. You do want somebody who is filling a position permanently to be forward thinking, to be current in what trends are, and to have ideas and creativity and you want somebody who is going to commit a few years to the position. I need to think they are ready for the role, can hit the ground running, and even grow as a professional in that role.”
Although organizations sometimes restructure staff to reduce costs or meet economic needs, Knetl was quick to point out that this was not necessarily a problem that GRCC currently has.
“People reorganize for different reasons,” Knetl said. “I was fortunate here, that, as I was doing it, I had shared that I wasn’t going to add positions, nor was I going to eliminate them. We are not in a situation where we had to reduce costs as part of the reorganization. As we look for ways to do things better, as we look to make the best use of our staff to serve students and faculty best, we do look for ways to save time and to make people’s work more clear and more efficient. GRCC is very fortunate to be in a strong financial state where reducing costs was not an impetus or desire of the organization.”
Though retirements were a consideration as far as timing for the reorganization goes, Knetl also pointed out that there are staff members who left to pursue other opportunities. One parallel he mentioned that was specific among community college staff members is that they often move on to another community college at their next job.
“Typically, especially in administration positions, I have gone from community colleges to community colleges,” Knetl said. “Other colleagues that I have outside of GRCC typically stay within community colleges, but not always. One of our deans left to go to a four year university, and our president left to go to a four year university as well.”
As far as Bill Pink’s decision to leave GRCC for Ferris State University, Knetl has nothing but fond memories of his working relationship with the former president.
“I, as a provost, and GRCC, as an institution, have both been really fortunate to have President Pink as our president,” Knetl said. “It did not surprise me at all that he would come to GRCC and do some awesome things and then desire to and be recruited for other great opportunities. I think he will do great things at Ferris State. I will miss him here, but I am glad he is staying in Michigan.”
Knetl thinks that the school is in good hands as they search for a permanent replacement for Pink, and he commends the Board of Trustees on their decision to bring back former GRCC President Juan Olivarez to serve as interim in that role.
“When you look for interim candidates, you are looking for a variety of things,” Knetl said. “When I am looking to put an interim in an associate dean position, some had experience and others hadn’t. But I think if you have the interest and the capability to do the work for a short period of time, it can serve as a growth opportunity. When you look for a dean, a provost or a president position, you probably want somebody who has a different level of experience. You look for the right person at the right time, and I think our board made an amazing decision with Dr. Olivarez as interim for this period of time.”
For Knetl, Olivarez’ unique experience as GRCC’s former President made him the best possible candidate to serve in this transition period.
“He is exactly what we need at this time,” Knetl said. “Knowing the institution and knowing the community the way he does, as well as having done the role before, he really brings the right approach as we go through a significant transition, not only in academic and student affairs with all the reorganization, but in losing a great president with the expectation of finding another great president.”
As far as Knetl himself is concerned, he has not yet reached the peak of his own potential, and he did not rule out the possibility for advancement at this very institution as well.
“I have been really lucky to have great presidents and great teams that I have worked with. I am of an age and an energy right now where I do think that someday I would consider being a community college President…I love GRCC and I love what I am doing as provost. I have had a great opportunity with this reorganization and this new President coming in.”
While Knetl utilizes the staff reorganization to improve the school, he is also aware of the way his own past experience has helped him to be a leader at GRCC. He previously spent seven years as a director and teacher in the theater department at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, and believes that there are many parallels to be drawn between directing a production and being in a top leadership position at an academic institution as well.
“I think theater in general has a lot to teach us about organizational leadership,” Knetl said. “What you do with directing is provide a vision and really facilitate an atmosphere that is collaborative and allows other creative, capable people to add their own talents and their own ideas to the project to not only help with your vision, but actually improve it and make it real. There are significant parallels between directing and what I have done as an academic leader and even the provost position seems most aligned with that.”
For more information on the GRCC staff reorganization and the list of major personnel changes being made, click here.