By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Jennifer Lech’s new title as Vice Provost at Grand Canyon University is much simpler than her old one: Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and University Registrar, Accreditation Liaison Officer.
But her involvement will continue to be just as complex – and extremely important – to the new Provost, Dr. Randy Gibb, as they take over for Dr. Hank Radda, who will retire as Provost in July.
Lech describes her role as the “problem solver of University conundrums and mysteries.” But maybe the biggest mystery is how one person could do all this:
- Accreditation: Ensure GCU’s institutional accreditation is maintained as well as project manage and assist the colleges with programmatic accreditations.
- State compliance: Ensure GCU is authorized as needed in any state in which the University has students.
- Office of Academic Records/Registrar: Keep the official student record for each student, including all documentation, academic processes and policies.
- Policy and program management: Promote academic governance in the creation of policy and oversee the management and implementation of policies and programs throughout the lifecycle, through collaboration with the colleges and Curriculum Design and Development.
- Articulation agreements: Review and approve articulation agreements with other higher education institutions, to ensure the academic requirements of GCU are being met and maintained.
- Academic appeals: Process all official student appeals for adjudication within the University.
- Code of Conduct: Process all University level student conduct issues.
- Internal review: An investigative department that ensures students have the proper intent and expectations of going to school.
- Proctoring center: Provide proctoring and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) testing for colleges where services are needed outside the classroom.
- Student Disability Services: Provides accommodations for students who have self-selected into accommodations based on a disability.
- Admissions: The enrollment responsibility of the University, in conjunction with Grand Canyon Education executive vice presidents and regional development officers.
“Dr. Lech has built excellence into what GCU does academically and operationally, but at a scale with systems and processes that many universities are not able to achieve,” said GCU President Brian Mueller. “She brings an organizational capacity to literally every aspect of what we do from an admissions perspective to accreditation to state compliance. She is also responsible for creating student teaching opportunities, internships and clinical placements in all 50 states, giving our students real-world experience to help them succeed.”
Lech came to GCU in 2004, helping the University begin its ascent from the brink of bankruptcy. Her first job was Curriculum Design and Development Director, which meant she was charged with all the responsibilities associated with launching the University’s online program.
“I set up the processes, contracted and worked with the faculty, and we launched in August,” she said. “Based on GCU being close to bankruptcy, I knew the success of GCU required that we have courses and programs in which to enroll, and not a lot of time to do it.”
She built the Curriculum Design and Development Department over the next five years and also has overseen Academic Web Services, Office of Assessment, Institutional Research, Library, Faculty Services, Academic Compliance, State Compliance, Accreditation, Office of Academic Records, Resolution Office, Title IX, Student Disability Services, Proctoring Center and LOPES program.
As she reflects on the last 18 years at GCU, here is what stands out in her mind:
“I see my contributions throughout its history, through every phase of GCU, from not-for-profit to for-profit and back again. I was involved in every Change of Control since 2004 and had a large role in the last one to return back to not-for-profit, by coordinating the internal separation in accordance with the regulatory and accreditation requirements.
“I am probably most proud of my team. I have great people who have real trust in me because I earned it with them, and in turn, they definitely earned mine.”
Lech built many of the departments still in use on the academic side, from Curriculum Design and Development, Academic Web Services, all the areas in Academic Compliance, Accreditation, State Compliance, Policy and Program Management, Internal Review and the Proctoring Center.
Lech also is a board member for the Arizona Private Postsecondary Education (AZPPSE), chairs the State Intergovernmental Agreement of the Arizona State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Council (AZ-SARA) and soon will be a Higher Learning Commission peer reviewer.
Much of the work by Lech and her team is behind-the-scenes operations that are integral to the academic infrastructure of the University.
“I have been blessed with loyal leaders who want to learn and contribute to the University, some who have been with me for 14 years,” she said. “I try to always thank them and show them they are truly appreciated for what they do, by advocating for and supporting them and their needs through the University.”
The use of technology has been instrumental in streamlining academic operations and creating a cycle that mimics academics’ “Say it, do it, prove it, improve it” mantra. Except at GCU, Lech says it’s “Plan it, do it, measure it, improve it.”
“This cycle, in conjunction with advancements in the data and systems areas, allows us to be innovative and scalable and provides needed services to colleges, faculty and students and in other departments throughout GCU," she said.
Typical of the challenges Lech tackles, she said, are “the problems people are not sure how to deal with.”
“Some of these use my historical knowledge, some just use my decades of knowledge and experience, and an ability to help people understand all the requirements GCU must follow. For example, it’s bringing to people’s attention important accreditation or compliance components, such as faculty requirements written into law in one state or the importance of the composite score for accreditation or regulators. It really varies, but most people start with me and ask the process for handling their issue.”
And what is the most important thing people should know about the way GCU academics have evolved?
“We have been in a good place as a team. We have deans who really know their discipline. Dr. Radda focused on the holistic academic nature of a university, including colleges, faculty and students. He has given me the autonomy to oversee my areas and do what needs to be done in the academic operational areas and work collaboratively on projects that touch other areas of the University. We are a team and very collaborative.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
GCU Today: Gibb has another new mission: Provost of GCU