Meet Provost Elizabeth Cada
As Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Governors State University, Elizabeth "Beth" Cada is one of the university’s top administrators, and its chief academic officer. Responsible for setting academic priorities and allocating resources to support them, she serves on numerous committees and meets continually with leadership across campus.
But her heart is in the classroom.
“One thing I’ve always enjoyed was teaching classes,” Cada said. “I think most administrators would continue to identify with their faculty role, their scholarship, their research, their professorship, even as they move into administration. You never quite leave your role as a faculty member behind.”
Cada, who was officially named Provost in August 2018 following eight months as Interim Provost, brought a wealth of experience to the post that few could match. An occupational therapist who joined GSU in 1996, she established its Department of Occupational Therapy to educate scores of much-needed therapists who could serve the Southland and surrounding rural communities. She served as department chair, and in 2012 was named Dean of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), where she oversaw several departments that generate millions for research and scholarships to help educate future professionals. Cada also was appointed Dean for Graduate Studies.
“I’ve had some very good support and mentorship along the way in my administrative roles,” she said. “I think that speaks to the people I’ve followed into these positions.”
The Provost is charged with leading a strategic planning process known as Strategy 2025, which engages wide campus participation that culminates with draft document that must be approved by the Board of Trustees.
One goal of eight outlined in the current plan —Vision 2020—is Academic Excellence, which includes initiating new programs.
Part of that means creating new courses, even new majors and minors. Usually that process begins with a faculty member’s recommendation; sometimes community employers weigh in with ideas. But this year, a request from GSU’s Student Senate is gaining traction—establishing a Black Studies minor.
The Student Senate approached Cada with a Black Studies major in mind to expand on the courses in the university catalog. However, after meeting with faculty and administrators in the College of Arts and Sciences, (CAS) it was determined at the best course of action would be a minor in Black Studies. Once student demand grows, the CAS will consider developing a major in Black Studies, Cada said. The program would be subject to review and approved process that includes the Faculty Senate.
Cada called the timing for a Black Studies program perfect because GSU already offers coursework in African American English, politics, and history.
“We’re hoping we’ll have enough students sign up to signal to the university that this is a growth area for us. I was excited because sometimes it takes longer to go through the governance process for approvals. Vetting is important, but we have the opportunity to be responsive to students and the community.”
GSU's community focus and innovative approach are what initially drew Cada to GSU. She still sees that quality as one of its best features—along with its mission to serve New Majority students: returning adults, veterans, low-income students and those who are first in their family to seek higher education.
“I always describe GSU as a community where the people who are here teaching and working are here because they are committed to the mission. That’s what’s sustained me over the years. They are a really good group of people who are very devoted to our students,” she said.
“I’d like to think we’re still innovative. We’re relatively small. That can be a positive in moving things along. We always have to balance what people are asking us to do with whether we have the resources to execute it, but it has to be high quality.”
It can be tough at the top. Cada was among GSU administrators who worked hard to battle the effects of the budget shortfalls that hit Illinois public universities in 2016. “It cut deep into campus life, the morale of individuals and the stamina they had,” she said. “The faculty and staff should be commended for their efforts, and the administration did a good job of making sure we were able to succeed financially. I think GSU is in the recovery stage now. When you get through a crisis, that’s great. But then you need a recovery period.”
What provided a boost during that stressful time was the fact that in 2014, GSU expanded to welcome its first freshmen class. “It was an exciting time because it brought new programming and new faculty to campus, which was awesome,” Cada said.
“And our existing faculty were big cheerleaders for our new general education program. It’s unique. It’s evidence-based. People were excited to have looked at data and designed a curriculum. They were anxious for students to come so they could deliver it.”
It was also an enormous change for the culture of the campus, she said. “It created a need to have a fuller campus life. We now had residential students who were hoping for a college experience they would get on a residential campus. Although we’ve had lots of activities here for our transfer students and graduate students, it’s a different feel.”
Being provost puts Cada in contact most often with faculty and other administrators at GSU, which is the nature of the job. But she still treasures the moments she is out of her office and close to the classroom.
“I really enjoy when I have the opportunities to engage with our students,” she said. “They are a good group.”