CARBONDALE -- Susan Ford spent 36 years at SIU and saw her two children graduate from the school in 2008 and 2011.  

So when she was asked to put off her scheduled retirement in January to take the interim provost position, she was quick to offer her services until a permanent provost is appointed.

"I love SIU," Ford said. "I've been here a very long time ... My children have gone here as alumni. My husband has two degrees and has retired from working here. We're very much a Saluki family, and I felt like I could do some good things."

When she told her husband, who enjoys attending SIU sporting events, about the opportunity that would forestall her retirement, he just wanted to know one thing.

"Does that mean we get free basketball and football tickets?" he asked.

Ford has worn many hats on the Carbondale campus, serving as faculty member, director of undergraduate and graduate studies, anthropology department chair, graduate council chair and interim dean of the graduate school.

"The roles that I play have let me understand the educational side of the university -- and that is what the provost is the chief academic officer -- from the freshman experience to the Ph.D.," Ford said.

Ford, who became the first member of her mother's family to graduate high school, is also an active researcher, focusing on primate evolution and anatomy. 

She replaces John Nicklow, who was reassigned to the College of Engineering. She will serve during a period of transition as the school continues to shift its philosophy and direction after the July departure of former Chancellor Rita Cheng.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rita Cheng and John Nicklow. I believe they are hard-working individuals who had the best interest of the university in mind," Ford said.

"We can all differ on how best to move the university forward as an honest set of differences. That doesn't mean we question people's motives or intent."

But those differences remain stark. Cheng came in 2011 to a campus in dire economic situations and her response was to centralize most of the decision making to control spending.

"I think Chancellor Sarvela's model is just a different model, which is to hire really strong, talented individuals and then just trust them to take the mission and manage," Ford said.

"If there are changes, some of the initial changes are to decentralize some steps and strategies back into the hands of individuals that manage it. I'm an ardent believer in shared governance." 

President Randy Dunn was a department chair while Ford served on the graduate council.

"I think she brings a philosophy of leadership that is well aligned with that which Paul (Sarvela) is trying to bring and what is involved in leading a human capital enterprise," Dunn said.

Ford will work with Sarvela on ending SIU's nine-year trend of falling enrollments that have reduced the number of students from 21,589  in Fall 2004 to 17,964 in Fall 2013.

The biological anthropologist said she will put into action a retention plan put together over the last year by a task force.

"That is going to continue to go forth," Ford said. "I'm not going to change that. It's a great plan. It's a very well-thought out plan. Many of those key leaders are here on campus and ready to take that forward."

chris.hottensen@thesouthern.com

618-351-5074

Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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