The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has a new provost.
Dr. James Henderson, the University's provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, started work Monday. Prior to joining the UL Lafayette community, he had been dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences at California State University, Los Angeles, since 2008.
He is UL Lafayette's senior academic administrator and senior vice president. Deans of the university's academic colleges report to him.
“Dr. Henderson is a proven leader who has held academic administration positions, including department head, dean and vice chancellor. He is a great fit for UL Lafayette. We are grateful to have a visionary leader and scholar with a deep commitment to teaching, innovation, and strengthening relationships both on campus and in our community,” said UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie.
Henderson is responsible for the general direction of UL Lafayette's instruction, research and outreach activities. He will coordinate academic affairs, student affairs, research, advancement and administration. One of his duties is recruiting faculty members.
“I am not coming to Lafayette to check off a box and say, 'I've been a provost.' I'm coming here to be a part of this University and this community. This is a place I really want to be,” he said in a recent interview.
“Some universities just happen to be located in a particular community and some universities are really tied to the community. My sense is that this University is really tied to the community. That was reinforced during the interview process. It is highly unusual for an academic candidate to meet with community members — and I like that a lot.”
Like many UL Lafayette students, Henderson was a first-generation student.
Born in Bunkie, La., he grew up in rural New Mexico, where he completed high school. His mother, a native of Port Allen, La., earned a high school diploma. His father, who did not finish high school, worked for Amerada Hess, an oil company.
In 1975, Henderson's father was considering retirement. “The company said, ‘We'll move you anywhere you like, if you'll stay on for a while.' My parents chose Lafayette,” he said.
So, Henderson was familiar with Lafayette and Acadiana long before applying for the University's provost's position last year.
Henderson's father died in 1984. His mother remained in Lafayette until 2001, when she moved to an out-of-state assisted-care facility. She died in 2007.
“Although neither of my parents had gone to college, it was an expectation that their kids would go to college,” Henderson said.
“When first-generation students run into hurdles, they can't go home and talk to their parents about how to handle difficulties at college, not because their parents don't care, but simply because they don't have experience to draw from.”
First-generation students may also face added financial pressures, Henderson said.
“Many of them come from families in which it's economically difficult for students to attend college. Parents may tell them, 'We need you to work more because we need the income. You need to either drop out or take fewer classes.'
“That's an issue where we can better communicate with parents, to help them see what some of the long-term goals are, how this benefits the entire family. Encouraging connections with the entire family, not just the student, can help make a difference in students' lives.
“There are some people who don't want or need a college degree. My dad did just fine without a college degree. He had a good life and supported his family exceedingly well. But for those people who want a college degree and can't get it, that, for me, is a real loss. It's a personal loss and a loss of human capital.”
Henderson said he was attracted to UL Lafayette for several reasons: its connections to the community and local cultures, its diverse student population, and the breadth of academic programs it offers.
Henderson said he is drawn to academic diversity and interdisciplinary study. At California State University, Los Angeles, he was dean of a college that included far-ranging programs, including mathematics, physics, chemistry and astronomy, as well as history, ethnic studies, political science and sociology.
He was vice chancellor for Student Success and Enrollment Management at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs from 2003 to 2007 and taught there from 2007 to 2008. He was also an administrator at Colorado College, where he was dean of the Summer Session from 2001 to 2003 and twice served as chair of the Department of Mathematics in the 1990s.
Henderson received a master's degree and doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics from the University of Texas-Austin.
Dr. Bradd Clark has served as interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs since July 2013. He was preceded by Dr. Carolyn Bruder, who became interim provost after University's first provost, Dr. Steve Landry, retired in 2011.