Universities often name people from traditional liberal arts and sciences backgrounds to become their academic chiefs.
The last two people at Wichita State University to hold that title, for example, were Gary Miller, a biologist and noted authority on spiders, and Keith Pickus, the interim provost until July, who is a professor of modern German and European history.
So if President John Bardo was seeking to signal a new direction for WSU, emphasizing WSU’s practical role in aviation and engineering, he might well have done it in naming WSU’s new vice president for academic affairs.
Anthony Vizzini, 54, who starts his job July 1, is a fellow of the American Society for Composites. He has served since 2009 as dean and professor of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Western Michigan University, WSU said in a news release.
WSU likes to say it is a complete liberal arts and sciences university. But it also has the National Institute for Aviation Research, a premier aviation testing facility. Its College of Engineering is nationally known. And through those entities, it also has strong ties with aviation manufacturing, much of which has converted to the use of composite aircraft materials in recent years.
This does not mean anyone will be shortchanged, Vizzini said from Michigan on Tuesday.
“Liberal arts are the real soul of any university,” he said. “Liberal arts people are the keepers of any university’s soul.
“So yeah, I may be an engineer, but I love history, and I love literature. One thing I always stress to my students in engineering is that it’s not enough to know engineering. If you can’t contribute to a conversation at a backyard barbecue, you can’t even be an engineer. Engineers have to be part of life.”
Vizzini will take over as WSU is dealing yet again with more state budget cuts, as it has for years.
“But fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve been in Michigan for four years, with significant cuts in my college every year,” he said.
“But you don’t go around saying ‘woe is me’ about it. It’s one of the things you just have to deal with. You look at partnerships, and you look at your ability to create and strengthen other resource areas.
“You reach out to the community. And you find those places where it is a win-win-win for everyone to work together.”
He takes over the job held until 2011 by Miller, who became chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Vizzini’s background will help academic programs and bring to bear his experience developing entrepreneurship and business innovation in private and public partnerships, Bardo said in the statement.
Vizzini earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research involved the manufacture, testing and analysis of composite structures. He is president of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering, the university statement said.