Robert Mokwa

Dr. Robert Mokwa was hired as MSU's provost in April 2017.

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Montana State University has chosen Robert “Bob” Mokwa, called a thoughtful administrator and “team player,” to fill the second most powerful job on campus.

The university announced Monday that Mokwa, who has served as MSU’s interim provost since last summer, has been chosen by President Waded Cruzado as the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Cruzado said in a press release that Mokwa has a “deep understanding of the land-grant mission,” which is to teach, do research and provide outreach to serve the people of the state. She called him a “strong advocate for faculty and students” and a “strategic thinker who will enthusiastically lead the university with a focus on excellence.”

Mokwa, 54, was one of four finalists interviewed on campus for the position this month. Three came from other states.

“Higher education has the power to change lives,” Mokwa told faculty, administrators and staff members during his public talk April 3. MSU can be “the gold standard,” he said, for land-grant universities where the mission is to improve people’s lives.

“We’re a well-run organization,” Mokwa said. “Students are coming here because we’re doing things right.”

As provost, he will oversee all academic issues, including 10 college and school deans, faculty hiring and promotions, the WWAMI doctor-training program and online Extended University courses.

Mokwa came to MSU in 2001 to as an assistant professor of civil engineering. He has received several teaching awards, two from the College of Engineering and one president’s award. He served as Faculty Senate chair, interim math department chair and interim provost. He succeeds Martha Potvin, who left MSU for a campus in Massachusetts.

Mokwa said in a statement he was honored to serve as provost and to work with MSU’s “world-class researchers, educators, scholars, artists, composers, writers … This is truly a special place with special people.”

As provost, his new salary will be $245,000, said MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig. That is an increase from his current $219,000.

“I was happy, I was pleased,” Michael Babcock, current Faculty Senate chair, said of Mokwa’s selection. “I think he’ll do a wonderful job. He has a lot of experience, he’s respected by the commissioner (of higher education), and he’s done a remarkable job as interim.”

One question asked of Mokwa during the April 3 public meeting was what he would do if the president, his boss, wanted to do something wrong. He replied that if it were something unethical or immoral, that would be easy, or, if it were something merely wrongheaded, he would seek more information.

“At the end of the day I need to trust my boss,” Mokwa said.

Babcock said Cruzado is very good about seeking input from people.

“We all work together,” Babcock said. “We’re more of a team. He’s a good team player.”

Mokwa has worked with the commissioner of higher education’s office on several projects, including a task force to start a “performance funding” program sought by legislators. He also worked with a statewide group on improving classes for freshmen students who need remedial math or English classes, to help them succeed rather than get discouraged and drop out.

He also worked on merging MSU’s online Extended University classes into the same system as regular face-to-face classes, so that it’s easy for students to take online classes and for the university to manage and get enrollment credit for those students.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian said in MSU’s press release that Mokwa “is a thoughtful, detail-oriented planner who has worked his way up.”

“He understands the needs of faculty and students,” Christian said. “I know he will work hard for their best interests.”

When Cruzado named Mokwa as interim provost last year, she called him well-respected by the faculty and praised his “passion for research, teaching and service” and his “calm demeanor, thoughtfulness, affable nature and familiarity with life in the classroom.”

Asked if this was a tough decision, Cruzado replied in an email, “We had a very strong pool of applicants and we were privileged to host four highly qualified candidates for their campus visits. There is a lot of interest in Montana State University and we thank our candidates.”

The other three finalists were Marcella David, a former provost of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; Jon Harbor, a Purdue University administrator; and Frank Galey, dean of the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture.

Mokwa, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, earned his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech and master’s degree from Purdue University.

He is a licensed engineer, and his research on foundation design for large structures like bridges has won national awards and international invitations to speak.

He and his wife, Nicki, have three teenage children.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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