By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
For anyone who has been in the College of Arts and Sciences during the last eight years, it was hard to miss seeing Dean Ronald Yasbin. He was always talking to students and working every day to make the University of Missouri-St. Louis better for its students. Dean Yasbin will be retiring August 31, but the impact he has had on UMSL remains.
Among his accomplishments, Dean Yasbin helped create the Veterans Center on campus which opened on December 7, 2012 and has grown to be a national model elsewhere. Jim Craig, associate teaching professor and Department Chair of Military and Veteran Studies, said, “The real driving force behind veteran programs at UMSL really is Ron. It was his ideas. What that really was is him responding to students.”
Craig credited students with bringing the idea to Dean Yasbin through a committee. Yasbin ran with the idea to come up with a way to get a program on campus for the veteran students.
“[He] has changed the future of 1,000 or more veterans in the St. Louis area, which is pretty dramatic in just four or five years,” Craig said. “Because of his long leash he has given me we also have this idea of Veterans Studies which is growing regionally and nationally. Arizona State University is going to build a Veterans Studies program next year based on our program. Once a big university like that starts doing that, this thing is going to grow. It’s really Ron’s initial concept that I’m executing.”
Craig emphasized Dean Yasbin’s involvement with students. Craig said, “Ron spends some time in the student vet center every week–more time than I think you guys really know… the student vets love him. He walks in and he is very accessible to them.”
A retirement party was held for Dean Yasbin on August 22 in the Century Rooms from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. with remarks starting at 3:30 p.m. Associate Dean Beth Eckelkamp said, “I want to commend Ron for being arguably the most student-centered dean I have ever met. He never seems happier than when he is meeting with students… He really enjoys picking their brains and understanding what motivates them and makes them successful. It was in that spirit that Ron really invested in the advising side of the student experience. Without him we definitely would not have the big, beautiful advising center we have now. We tripled the staff, and we have really improved the student experience with some really dedicated staff that he makes feel like family.”
Eckelkamp also commented on some of the academic centers on campus that Dean Yasbin had been a part of during his time. Eckelkamp mentioned that Yasbin had a vision for the Math and Writing Center that he shared with the Student Advisory Board. He worked with them to create a space that the students really wanted. Eckelkamp commended the effort saying there were students in the writing center all the time.
The Current Student Newspaper was able to ask Dean Yasbin about his time at UMSL and after before he leaves August 31.
The Current (TC): What did you like most about your time here at UMSL?
Ronald Yasbin (RY): I really enjoyed the strength, diversity, and potential of our students and how our faculty care about student success. UMSL is a great example of a Metropolitan Land Grant Institution that is charged with providing education, research, and service to urban and metropolitan areas. Of primary importance is to educate the next generation of leaders in all fields. Especially, those who may not be able to afford more expensive institutions. I honestly believe that we are doing a great job of fulfilling that commitment.
TC: What are your plans now?
RY: Sherrill and I are retiring to southwest Florida and hope that our children and grandchildren will visit a lot (and that our UMSL friends and colleagues will keep in touch). I am interested in working on promoting genetic screening among individuals of childbearing age. All too often couples have children without knowing what possible genetic problems these kids might face. Knowledge provides for better medical care and earlier diagnosis. The price for this type of screening has dropped really dramatically. Education is key for getting individuals to understand human genetics and how important it is to know about potential problems. I have started talking with a company and a foundation about becoming an active volunteer.
TC: What do you see in the future for UMSL?
RY: I worry about the future of affordable quality higher education in a country and a state where our politicians seem to care more about cutting taxes for the very wealthy and little about preparing the next generation of leaders who will guarantee that America remains the best example of making sure that everyone can fully develop their creativity and potential. UMSL is doing a great job in this mission. My concern is how long this can continue unless we redirect our priorities. UMSL has incredible potential to add to its already extensive lists of accomplishments. Given the appropriate support, I truly believe it really would be a powerhouse of the type of university needed in the 21st century. I know this sounds like pontification, but we can do it.
TC: What was your biggest challenge or accomplishment in your 8 years as Dean?
RY: I think the biggest accomplishment was working with the faculty, staff, and students to reduce and eliminate the over 7-million-dollar debt that the college faced 9 years ago. No one person could achieve such a financial turnaround. The entire college family was involved in this effort and everyone did sacrifice. However, until we removed this financial sword from over our heads we really could not fully move forward. The debt elimination was accomplished, but this presented a challenge as well. While we were reducing the debt, the entire university was facing financial problems. Thus, we were not able to utilize the funds that were liberated by the reduction of the debt for the hiring of additional faculty and the elimination of salary compression from faculty and staff. We had a two prong approach to our financial problem which consisted of eliminating the debt while investing in the future of the college. As I said, we accomplished the debt elimination, but never fully achieved doing all of the investments we wanted.
Despite this limitation, I am proud of the fact that the College of Arts and Science family was able to begin grant programs to support undergraduate research, faculty research, faculty travel, the development of creative curriculum and programs, and a program to support visiting scholars. Of course I am very proud of our successes in the development of the Veterans Center, investments in Gender Studies and the LGBTQ community, the building of the Academic Centers, the growth of Gerontology and of Child Advocacy Studies as well as our targeted recruitment efforts for groups underrepresented on the campus to name some of the initiatives.
Again, this was a united effort of faculty, staff, and students. I hope all of our initiatives will be able to continue and that we will be able to harness the creativity and commitment of the faculty, students, and staff under the new budget model.
Dean Yasbin had parting words for UMSL, he said, “We always have to remember to be UMSL proud. We are first rate and should never take a back seat to any other college or university. We have nothing to be ashamed of and lots for which to be proud.”
Teresa Thiel, senior associate dean, will take over as interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences while a search committee is formed and goes through their process of hiring a new dean. The search for the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences will begin in the early fall with Vice Provost of Graduate Studies and Research and Dean of the Graduate School Chris Spilling as chair. The committee is composed of faculty, staff, students, and community members. Thiel served as Interim Dean of the college prior to Yasbin’s appointment in 2009.