New HSU provost takes office in July

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 18, 2013 at 1:19 p.m.
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Risa Dickson speaks Tuesday morning to faculty and students at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia after being introduced as the new provost and vice president for academic affairs.

— Classes were canceled and the campus was closed early Tuesday at Henderson State University because of a shower of ice pellets, but not before the introduction of a new provost and vice president of academic affairs, HSU’s second-highest-ranking administrator.

Risa Dickson is currently the associate provost for academic personnel at California State University, San Bernardino, where she manages 415 full-time faculty and 460 adjunct faculty for the college of around 20,000 students.

Henderson State President Glen Jones praised Dickson, who has a doctorate in interpersonal and organizational communication from the University of Southern California, for her “wealth of diverse experiences” in higher education.

“Dr. Dickson’s approach to academic program development, enrollment management, student retention and strategic planning will serve Henderson extremely well,” Jones said. “She is a very accomplished administrator, and we are excited to have such an innovative academic leader join the HSU family.”

The provost is the chief academic officer of the school and is responsible for the overall supervision of all academic programs, academic promotion and tenure decisions; academic strategic planning; and development of university policies and goals.

“This is a great opportunity to work with Dr. Jones; this position is open to opportunities for making changes. I hope I can help make a difference here,” Dickson said in an interview after the introduction ceremony. “Being Arkansas’ only public liberal-arts university, Henderson provides a distinctive educational experience.”

Dickson said she was raised in Tulsa, Okla., and is familiar with the region. She joined California State University, San Bernardino in 1991 as an assistant professor in the department of communication studies. She became chair of the department in 2000 and was named dean of the College of Arts and Letters in 2004. She served as executive associate to the president for planning and special programs from 2006-2010, when she was named associate provost and vice president.

As California State, San Bernardino’s executive associate to the president, Dickson directed the action to accomplish the goals of the school’s strategic plan, as well as managed research and worked with K-16 educational bridge programs. She also worked with elected officials on legislative issues at the state and federal levels.

As associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters from 2004-2006, Dickson managed faculty workloads, course scheduling, student grievances and commencement ceremonies.

During her four years as head of the department of communication studies, Dickson oversaw the creation and university-system approval of a Master of Arts degree program, a major addition to the academic offerings for the department. She launched two successful distance-learning programs and designed and implemented a mandatory student advising program.

Enrollment management and student retention are major concerns for universities, including Henderson. Higher education is being challenged to produce a higher percentage of successful graduates, within a minimum time and utilizing fewer resources.

Gathering information is the key element in being able to meet those challenges, she said.

“The decisions you make have to be driven by data,” Dickson said. “Figure out your strengths and weaknesses; then use recruiting to build on those strengths and work on the weaknesses.

Effective student retention leads to higher graduation rates. You just have to figure out the way to make it work.”

The California academic was chosen over four other finalists. These included Martin J. Eisenberg, interim dean, School of Arts and Letters, and associate provost at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.; Brenda S. Nichols, dean, College of Arts & Sciences at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas; and Robert F. Scott Jr., dean of the College of Education and Technology at Fort Hays State University in Kansas.

One education official from Arkansas was also a finalist: Georgia M. Hale, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

“In addition to her diverse academic background, Dr. Dickson’s character and collaborative leadership style will complement the university’s time-honored commitment to making a difference in the lives of our students and in the communities we serve,” Jones said.

Dickson will join Henderson on July 1 but said she is already engaged in work for the university.

“We will be hiring a new business dean, and I will be involved in that decision,” she said. “The first thing I will do is to figure out the lay of the land and find ways to help move the institution forward.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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