Joseph E. Steinmetz became chancellor of the University of Arkansas on Jan. 1.
He was executive vice president and provost at Ohio State University. Steinmetz spent three years as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas and 19 years at Indiana University, where he was chairman of the Department of Psychology, executive associate dean of Arts and Sciences and a distinguished professor of psychological and brain science.
Joseph E. Steinmetz
• Date and place of birth: Jan. 6, 1955, in Marine City, Mich.
• Family: wife, Sandy; two sons and four grandchildren
• Education: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in experimental psychology from Central Michigan University and doctorate in behavioral neuroscience from Ohio University
• First jobs: dishwasher at a small restaurant as a teenager, church organist and paperboy
• Current read: “Hollywood Book of Death,” summaries of how movie stars died
• Favorite school subject: math
• Favorite sports team: Detroit Redwings
• If I had an extra hour each day, I’d: play the piano
• Thing I would like to change about myself: I exercise almost every day, but wish I ate better
• Pet peeve: don’t like people who don’t get to the point
• What’s always in my refrigerator: a six-pack of beer. I’m a craft beer lover.
• Something that might surprise people: I’m a very informal person. I would rather not wear a suit and tie.
Q. What did you know about the University of Arkansas before you interviewed?
A. Very little. I tell the senior staff around here all the time, and I’ve said it publicly a few times, this is a well-kept secret. I started looking at it when the position became open and got familiar on paper. It’s easy to do that. You can look on a website and get some facts and figures. Those all look good, but you don’t really know anything until you step on campus and see what’s really here. I’m not talking about the physical buildings. Frankly buildings are the same campus to campus. But it’s the people, the quality of the faculty, the students and the staff. From the first time I was here and visited, it was clear that this is a high-quality place that has great potential.
Q. What’s the biggest perk of being chancellor?
A. People recognize the position and the respect you are paid is interesting. And people aren’t afraid to come up and introduce themselves; I think of that as a perk. I’ve got really good basketball seats. I’ve been at basketball schools, spent all those years at Indiana and Kansas. That’s a big deal. And then you can’t miss the house over there. (The Wallace W. and Jama M. Fowler House is the chancellor’s residence.) It’s a lovely house to live in. I have to say it’s a big adjustment for Sandy and I. We lived in a 1,600-square-foot condo with two small closets. I find myself looking for my telephone all the time.
Q. Who has helped you be successful in your career?
A. My wife, Sandy. We’ve been married for over 40 years. She’s great. She’s a retired special education teacher. She spent about 30 years teaching, mostly in high schools. She’s patient and has put up with me coming home in not always the best mood. I think back to the days when I was an assistant professor, pre-tenure, and the hours and hours and hours I would spend in the laboratory. Those were times when she was getting her own education at the same time we had two boys. She’s fantastic.
Q. How did you get into education?
A. I really had an interesting journey through college. I initially thought I was going to be a commercial pharmacist. I knew very little about college; I’m a first-generation college student. I did that a couple of years and decided it wasn’t really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I became much more interested in the basic sciences. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I had a lot of biology and chemistry and I was interested in combining that kind of science with the science of behavior. I ended up as a psychology major with this big science background. That was a mixture of that we now call neuroscience. I ended up interested in research. Eventually I went to graduate school and followed that passion studying essentially how the brain changes as we learn and remember things.
Q. How do you balance your desire to work directly with students and faculty and your responsibilities as chancellor?
A. It’s very hard to do. I’ve tried to interact with faculty and students as much as possible, but it’s a different kind of relationship than what I had when I was an assistant, associate or full professor. I discovered as a department chair, which was my first administrative position, that you can do it on a different scale. You can facilitate the work of students and other faculty members. It in a way substitutes for the one-on-one classroom type of relationships. Here I try to be with students when I can. This job calls for a lot of time when you’re not with students, so I like to attend games and go to concerts. I’m visiting all the academic units. That’s my opportunity to meet with the faculty to find out what’s on their mind. I’ll probably try to teach again at some point.
Q. What advice do you give students?
A. The first thing I tell students is they have to find their passion. When I think back, it took me a while to settle on what I wanted to do. Sometimes students panic about that. I tell them they have opportunities at a university like this to have wide experiences. I advise them to explore, develop that passion then concentrate on it. I love to see students graduate on time. I like them to go through the university and on to what they are going to do next. They can have a lot of experience packed in those four years.
Q. Tell me about the photo of you and Bill Clinton on your bookshelf.
A. Bill Clinton came to Ohio State right after I was named chancellor here. He was there because the public affairs college is the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, he is still in residence there, and it went from school to college status. One of the speakers who came was Bill Clinton, a longtime friend of John Glenn, who is 94 years old now. There are very few American heroes; John Glenn is an American hero. John asked me if I would like to meet President Clinton. We spent some time together and he told me stories about Arkansas and his time here.
Print Headline: New UA chancellor balances administrative responsibilities and students